Who has the upper hand in the China-India border dispute?

Country/area: Hong Kong S.A.R., China

Organisation: South China Morning Post

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 11 Nov 2020

Credit: Marcelo Duhalde

Project description:

This project explores the balance of power between China and India as tensions rise over their ongoing Himalayan border dispute. With neither jingoistic nation willing to back down, the aim of our project is to provide readers with an overview of each country’s military and strategic strengths and weaknesses in the notoriously hostile terrain.

Impact reached:

We used data and cartography to present the military capabilities of each side. At first glance China appears to be in the driving seat but our study reveals India’s air advantage means the outcome is far from clear cut. The story generated many comments and much online debate with readers sharing the feature on various social platforms resulting in much higher page view numbers than is typical for SCMP.

Techniques/technologies used:

We used Google Maps and OSM to measure the runway lengths, distances between airfields and missile ranges. QGIS was used to depict the mountain terrain, roads, railways and populated areas. The vector icons and illustrations were created in Adobe illustrator while Photoshop was used for the animated jet engine gif. Front end development was built and designed using JQuery and ScrollMagic to make the page interactive.

What was the hardest part of this project?

Because of the sensitive nature of the border, India and China are reluctant to share cartographic information on the region making some of Himalayan terrain difficult to research accurately. We also wanted to show that military strength is more than a matter of who has the biggest war chest so it was important to explore how soldiers could overcome the brutal climate and hostile environment. Although we had extensive access to technical material on ballistics and aeronautics this proved its own challenge as we began getting sidetracked and could easily have gone down a rabbit hole losing track of the story focus and deadline.

What can others learn from this project?

Show don’t tell: we provide readers with information to draw their own conclusions. It was not our intention to take sides or imply which nation held the moral high ground. Instead we provided information about military strengths, distances involved, altitudes, geographical peculiarities, temperatures, atmospheric pressure and ballistic ranges. This is driven by using data with minimal narrative text.

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