The potential conflict between nuclear powers that Trump barely acknowledges

The two most populous countries in the world are dangerously close to armed conflict. Both are fast-growing and ambitious nations with something to prove — and they have nuclear weapons. Yet you’ll find surprisingly little discussion of the issue in Washington, where President Trump’s ongoing controversies and the threat of terrorist attacks (more on the horrific attack in Barcelona later in the newsletter) continue to dominate the discussion.

The military standoff between India and China over a remote plateau in the Himalayas has been going on for months now. This week, The Post’s Annie Gowen and Simon Denyer took a look at the complicated dispute, which was sparked by China’s move to build a road in territory claimed by Bhutan, a close ally of India that does not have formal diplomatic relations with Beijing.

Territorial disputes between in the area are far from new — India and China briefly went to war over contest territory in 1962. And much of the present dispute dates back to an 1890 border agreement made between British India and China’s Qing Dynasty, one of a number of lingering problems caused by colonial cartographers.

But experts say the current standoff is the worst in decades and has taken on a different tone than previous flare-ups. “It would be very complacent to rule out escalation,” Shashank Joshi, an analyst with the Royal United Services Institute in London, told The Post. “It’s the most serious crisis in India-China relations for 30 years.”

Here's how Chinese troops tried to deal with a previous standoff with India in 2013. (Associated Press)

Here’s how Chinese troops tried to deal with a previous standoff with India in 2013. (Associated Press)

Both India and China are speaking openly and seriously of armed conflict, with Beijing’s state media striking an indigent and at times uncharacteristically vulgar tone. An English-language video posted by the Xinhua news agency Wednesday accused India of “trampling international law” and “inventing various excuses to whitewash its illegal moves” — before showing a Chinese actor in a Sikh turban who spoke in an insulting Indian accent.

If India and China were to go to war, it would be no small matter. Over 2.6 billion people live in the two nations. Between them, they are estimated to have 380 nuclear weapons (though both China and India subscribe to a “no first use” policy, which should — hopefully — mean they wouldn’t be used in such any conflict).

In a briefing last month, the U.S. State Department urged restraint. During a press briefing last week, spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, “It’s a situation that we have certainly followed closely. And as you know, we have relationships with both governments. We continue to encourage both parties to sit down and have conversations about that.”

The dispute centers not only on the territory in question — an obscure, 34-square-mile area known as the Dolam Plateau that is claimed by both Bhutan and China — but a narrow strip of strategically important Indian land called the Siliguri Corridor. This tract, unaffectionately nicknamed the “chicken’s neck,” connects the bulk of the India with its remote east. Delhi has long feared Chinese troops could cut across the corridor if war broke out, effectively cutting the country in half. It’s not an unreasonable fear, given that the region is just 14 miles wide at its thinnest point; Ankit Panda of the Diplomat once dubbed it a “terrifyingly vulnerable artery in India’s geography.”

It is widely assumed that Washington would side with India in the dispute. Trump is a frequent critic of China, and some in his administration have pushed for tough responses to other territorial claims made by Beijing, such as the ongoing disputes in the South China Sea. Trump called Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on India’s Independence Day this week, which some media outlets interpreted as a gesture of support for New Delhi.

And yet, there is a nagging sense among some in India that Trump won’t have Modi’s back if push comes to shove. “If ever there was a war with China, America would never come to our rescue,” one government official told Indian journalist Barkha Dutt recently, according to a story Dutt wrote for The Post’s Global Opinion section.

Washington also may be diplomatically limited in the region: A number of key State Department positions that would have responsibility for handling an India-China crisis remain unfilled. Another part of the problem is simply the complexity of the issue, which could prove hard to communicate to a leader with seemingly limited knowledge of the world and a notoriously short attention span.

President Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shake hands in the Rose Garden of the White House on June 26. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

President Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shake hands in the Rose Garden of the White House on June 26. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

There is also an argument that perhaps Trump should keep his nose out of this. The Post’s Jackson Diehl wrote he didn’t find much enthusiasm for U.S. involvement in the dispute while in Delhi last week. The U.S. president has gained a reputation there for being hotheaded and impulsive — even the drawdown in tensions with North Korea seems to have happened in spite of his involvement, not because of it.

Diehl noted that Modi had sought a closer relationship with the United States in the hope that Trump would be tough on China and terrorism while forging closer ties to Russia, an old Indian ally. Instead, as Diehl writes, the Indians have received “contradictions and chaos,” with some wondering if the White House currently is even capable of handling complicated geopolitical situations.

To be fair, Trump is not alone in being more interested in the standoff with North Korea or terrorist attacks like the one that took place Thursday in Barcelona. He’s also in the midst of his own domestic crises.

However, Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution noted recently that the 1962 Indo-Chinese war was resolved with the help of President John F. Kennedy, who used military support for India and clever diplomacy to limit the scope of the conflict. Remarkably, this all happened at the same time as the Cuban missile crisis, the “most dangerous moment in human history.” Given that, what is Trump’s excuse?

• By now you’ve heard of the vehicle attack in Barcelona on Thursday, which left at least 13 people dead and dozens more injured. You can read The Post‘s coverage of the attack in the next section of the newsletter, but it’s also worth looking back a couple of months to an article in Spain’s El País newspaper. In June, investigative reporter Jose María Irujo published a look at the threat posed to Spain by jihadist terror networks, which hadn’t struck Spain since 2004. The piece emphasized that integration was vital to avoiding the kinds of recurring attacks happening in France and Belgium, not just proactive policing:

“It’s a combination of factors, says an analyst from the anti-terrorist fight. ‘Here we don’t have ghettos as they do in France. The integration of the Muslim population is greater, and there is an incipient second generation. The radicalization is not so great. If there were 100% integration, the phenomenon would not exist.’

Meanwhile, President Trump responded to the reports out of Barcelona in typical fashion: he tweeted a debunked story about a U.S. general who supposedly dipped his bullets in pig’s blood when fighting a Muslim insurgents in The Philippines (for more on the history behind these strange comments, read this story from last year by WorldViews’ own Ishaan Tharoor). As some people noted, the speed of Trump’s response was quite different to the incident in Charlottesville that has been characterized as terrorism by his own Attorney General. The tweet also came before the Islamic State had issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack.

• We’ve been talking to you a bit this week about the moves to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, better known as NAFTA. Talks officially began on Wednesday, and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer set the tone with a forceful statementthat demanded major changes to the agreement. That might seem unsurprising given President Trump’s outspoken scorn for the deal, but journalists at the site of the negotations described Lighthizer’s talks as a major breach of protocol that took Mexican and Canadian officials aback.

My colleagues Max Bearak and Amanda Erickson have undertaken the herculean task of breaking down the history of the deal and what might be in store. As for changes, they say the bottom line is this: “Political necessity has brought about this renegotiation, but whether it actually changes employment, wages and conditions for North American workers depends on how much Trump is willing to break with his Republican colleagues and their corporate backers.”

• First it was The Mooch’s turn, now it’s Steve Bannon’s. The American Prospect, a liberal Washington-based magazine, scored an amazing and unexpected scoop when the White House chief strategist called out of the blue on Tuesday. He did so to praise the views of its co-founder, Robert Kuttner, on China, but the conversation certainly did not end there. Bannon ended up dishing on China and North Korea policy, his moves against various other administration members, his supposed disdain for “ethno-nationalists” like the ones that showed up Charlottesville and other subjects.

The foreign policy revelations were embarrasing public admissions, and, like Scaramucci before him, Bannon claimed he hadn’t know the conversation was on the record. Either way, it’s worth a read.

• Speaking of Trump and Twitter, my colleague Philip Bump has come up with a genius new idea: He created a Twitter account that retweets everyone Trump himself follows, letting you see exactly what’s flashing across the president’s phone. It’s a fascinating window into the information that Trump recieves and seemingly uses to form much of his own thoughts — and certainly his social media presence.

The president only follows 45 accounts (no word if that’s a purposeful nod to his own place in history), but Bump says there’s one clear thread among all of them: They tweet extensively about Trump himself:

“The Trump name is mentioned 389 times in August tweets from these users. His Twitter handle is mentioned 230 times. Fox News’s Twitter handle is mentioned 184 times. The word “president” comes up 164 times and the news of the month, Charlottesville, 120 times.”

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow the account yourself here.

A woman cries after a vehicular attack on Las&nbsp;Ramblas in Barcelona on Aug.&nbsp;17. (Pau Barrena/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)</p>

A woman cries after a vehicular attack on Las Ramblas in Barcelona on Aug. 17. (Pau Barrena/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

This again

As terrorists struck across Europe over the past year, Spain was spared from large-scale tragedy. No one had attacked there since the 2004 bombings of the Madrid rail system that killed 192 people, but authorities had long braced for another hit.

It came on Thursday evening.

A driver swerved a van onto a pedestrian area in Barcelona’s historic Las Ramblas district, breaking the peace of a warm summer afternoon in a packed, touristy area of the city at the peak of vacation season. The assault killed 13 people at the time of writing — authorities say the death toll could rise further still — and injured over 100 more.

A senior Catalan police official, Josep Lluis Trapero, told reporters they had arrested two people in connection with the attack — a Moroccan national and a Spanish citizen from the North African enclave of Melilla — but that the driver was still believed to be at large. Several hours after the incident, the Islamic State claimed responsibility.

The attack, which took place over a few terror-filled minutes just before 6:00 p.m. local time, set off a wave of panic and confusion as authorities sought to track down the perpetrator and fearful civilians hid for hours in barricaded shops, restaurants and churches.

Witnesses described chaos as the white delivery van suddenly swung off a street onto the wide pedestrian mall that draws strolling tourists and residents to its bars, cafes and shops. As people started to run away, the driver swerved the vehicle from left to right, in an apparent bid to inflict maximum damage.

When the van came to a halt, its front was smashed and crumpled inward from the impact of the people it hit. People were sprawled on the sidewalk, some not moving. Hats, handbags and other items were strewn nearby. Some people ran screaming from the scene.

“There was a really loud kind of crashing noise. I didn’t stop to look back,” said witness Ethan Spieby to the BBC. Hours after the attack, he said he was holed up in a church with about 80 tourists and locals.

Early Friday, police said they thwarted what they thought was an attempt at a second, connected attack, in the Catalan town of Cambrils, 60 miles southwest of Barcelona, by fatally shooting four suspects, and police were checking the bodies for what they believed were explosive belts. A fifth suspect later died of his injuries.

Catalan authorities said they would stand firm in the face of terrorism.

“Catalonia will always prevail in the face of terrorism,” said Carles Puigdemont, the president of the Catalan regional government. “We will always stand for democracy and freedom. We will always be united.”— William Booth, Michael Birnbaum and William Branigin

Supporters of President Uhuru Kenyatta cheer in Nairobi after he was declared the winner of Kenya's&nbsp;presidential election on Aug. 11. (Dai Kurokawa/European Pressphoto Agency)</p>

Supporters of President Uhuru Kenyatta cheer in Nairobi after he was declared the winner of Kenya’s presidential election on Aug. 11. (Dai Kurokawa/European Pressphoto Agency)

The big question

Ahead of Kenya’s elections last week, Nairobi was transformed into a relative ghost town. The epic traffic jams vanished. Businesses closed. Those who could afford bus or plane tickets fled to more peaceful cities, or left Kenya entirely. Nairobians feared the result, whatever it was, could spark violence of the kind seen after the 2007 election, when hundreds were killed in post-election clashes. So far, there have been protests and a number of deaths — but a major upheaval hasn’t come to pass. So we asked Post Africa bureau chief Kevin Sieff: Does it look like Kenya has avoided widespread violence?

“It’s been nine days since the election. Incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta has won, and his longtime opponent Raila Odinga is contesting the results in court. More than 20 people were killed in post-election clashes with the police. But the most extreme fears of Kenyans never materialized.

“So has Kenya’s democracy matured enough that even a disputed election doesn’t result in countrywide ethnic violence?

“More likely, Kenya avoided a more dramatic descent for two reasons. First, Kenyatta’s control of the security forces is absolute, and police had prepared for months to quell post-election demonstrations.Second, Odinga’s supporters — and Kenya’s opposition more broadly — have grown accustomed to losing national elections.

“To much of the opposition, each loss has cast more doubt on the country’s democratic process — and underscored the futility of fighting against the existing political establishment, led by Kenyatta’s Kikuyu tribe. The avenues to power for Odinga’s tribe, the Luo, are increasingly difficult to identify.

“The lack of more deadly violence should not be read as a testament to Kenyan democracy. The tribal tensions that lie just beneath the surface of the country’s politics are as alive as ever. Odinga was unable or unwilling to mobilize a violent response to his loss, but roughly half of Kenyans still feel spurned by the central government over tribal loyalties. That will not only make it difficult for Kenyatta to improve public faith in his government; it also deepens a rift that runs through East Africa’s most important nation, a vibrant democracy that could hardly be less inclusive.”

Steve Bannon’s gobsmacking interview did contain at least one bit of truth, according to The Post: There’s no way to stop North Korea’s nuclear program now. But what about the future? Project Syndicate takes a look at what it would take to make the Koreas one nation again. Speaking of unifications, the Independent argues that it’s time to bring Ireland back together to mitigate the effect of Brexit. And, in the New York Times, an outspoken and influential Trump backer says farewell to that allegiance.

Bannon is right about North Korea
Bannon admitted what everyone already knew: Trump’s threats to attack North Korea are empty.
By Josh Rogin | The Washington Post  •  Read more »
Planning for Korean reunification
The United States and South Korea need to assure China that a reunified Korea would not be its enemy.
By Lee Jong-Wha | Project Syndicate  •  Read more »
A united Ireland is the only practical solution to Brexit
The one sure way to enshrine free movement, free trade, and regulatory clarity in relations between the two parts of Ireland is to put them back together.
By Mary Dejevsky | The Independent  •  Read more »
I voted for Trump. And I sorely regret it.
I supported the president in dozens of articles, radio and TV appearances. I won’t do it any longer.
By Julius Krein | The New York Times  •  Read more »
It doesn’t seem like there is a scandal that can shake the faith of President Trump’s base, a large portion of which resides in rural America. Mother Jones reports how that faith is deeply alienating to the minorities living in those communities. Meanwhile, Eater explains how the craft brewery boom leaves out the contributions of people of color, while NPR shows where Muslim Americans are going to deal with the fear of rising animosity: summer camp.

“We just feel like we don’t belong here anymore”
Think it’s hard for the white working class in rural America? Try being a person of color.
By Becca Andrews | Mother Jones  •  Read more »
Between swimming and s’mores, young Muslim campers learn to cope with rising hate
The 55-year-old Muslim Youth Camp is taking on new meaning as a temporary respite for today’s new generation in the current political climate.
By Leila Fadel | NPR  •  Read more »
The white lies of artisanal food culture
How the world of small batch and totally artisanal erases the people of color who made it possible.
By Lauren Michele Jackson | Eater  •  Read more »

Five days after white supremacist groups marched through the University of Virginia with torches, thousands of people gathered on the school’s ground in a candlelight vigil for slain counterprotester Heather Heyer. It was a powerful symbol of reclamation for many local residents, students and other associated with the school. Calling back to an anti-Semitic chant heard on Friday night, photos of vigil circulated online with a caption: “We Replaced You.” (Andrew Shurtleff /The Daily Progress via Associated Press)

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