Meeting on the sidelines of the recently concluded BRICS Summit in South Africa, Indian Prime Minister Modi and China’s President Xi Jinping agreed to “de-escalate” tensions along their shared border, also known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The two countries have been locked in a frenzied infrastructure and military build-up since 2020, when clashes prompted the most perilous border crisis since 1967. 

The recent exchange between Modi and Xi followed almost week-long deliberations between senior Chinese and Indian military commanders on the same issue. The deliberations concluded with a joint statement—only the eighth issued from 19 meetings—replete with terms like “positive,” “constructive,” “open,” and “forward-looking.”

Yet despite the feel-good rhetoric, much of it—including assurances of de-escalation—has been heard before. Prior diplomatic efforts have amounted to little and, aside from agreeable verbiage, there is nothing to suggest this time is different.

As I noted in a recent report for Geopolitical Intelligence Services, China’s presence along the LAC includes air bases, heliports, and air defense sites. All have more than doubled in number since 2020. Beijing has also invested in the construction of “well-off villages” that have been erected to resettle more than 250,000 Tibetans closer to the border to add permanence and credibility to Beijing’s territorial claims, which it seeks to present as a fait accompli. There, Tibetan herdsmen are deployed alongside the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) security units as plainclothes operatives. Together, they form “border patrol teams” responsible for monitoring and securing, for Beijing, the LAC.

The PLA has more than 200,000 soldiers deployed to its Western Theater Command, which oversees the entire Sino-Indian border region. Its tactics there are not unlike those deployed in the South China Sea, where China uses a combination of hybrid and “salami-slicing tactics.” Along the LAC, for example, Chinese forces generally patrol up to their claimed LAC while the Indian military tends to keep its distance, approaching only a line of 65 patrolling points several miles from the understood border. The PLA has taken advantage of this to shift the LAC back into Indian territory.

India has responded in kind. Most significantly, in 2021, it rebalanced several of its key military units away from Pakistan to the LAC, adding more than 10,000 troops to the border. As of 2021, more than 50,000 Indian troops are stationed along the LAC. New Delhi has also accelerated the construction of its connectivity infrastructure—highways, roads, bridges—to allow for the movement of its military and military equipment. Like China, India has also taken to developing villages—some 2,967 in total—along the disputed border region.

None of this has changed following the recent deliberations and Xi and Modi’s exchange. There is little indication that it will—and on terms that would be acceptable to both sides. At best, the recent rosy rhetoric is likely to ensure a successful G20 summit in September, which India is set to host. Beyond that, the Sino-Indian border is set to remain a critical flashpoint for future conflict—one to which it is worth paying closer attention.