Author : Manoj Joshi

Originally Published 2013-05-01 00:00:00 Published on May 01, 2013
We are yet to get to the bottom of the mystery of the Chinese incursions. But the rhetoric that is coming out from New Delhi and Beijing now seems to suggest that the issue may quietly die down. As it is, it comes on the eve of External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid's visit to Beijing, and, more Chinese premier Li Keqiang's visit to New Delhi.
China's motives remain a mystery
India and China have differing perceptions on where the LAC lies in this area. This difference covers a band of some 10 kilometres and usually both Indian and Chinese patrols enter this zone and return to their base. However, this time the Chinese patrol has gone past that zone and, according to the government, camped on what is unambiguously the Indian side of the LAC.

The Indian perception of where the LAC lies is shaped by the fact that as of September 7, 1962, the line separating the Indian and Chinese forces was to the east, but after the war, the Chinese occupied positions to the west, including most of the Galwan river Valley - and did not go back.

The Chinese aim in the DBO area is not difficult to fathom.


It is to provide in-depth protection to their major all-weather highway linking Xinjiang with Tibet, which is some 150km away from the LAC. It would appear that Indian deployments here are viewed as a potential threat by the Chinese. But this has been a given, so why was there a change of a pattern in April 2013? Here, we can only speculate.

Some say that this is in response to some Indian bunkers that have been constructed. This is unlikely since there are mechanisms through which the Chinese could have raised the issue. Others say that this incident reflects some inner party struggle between hawks and doves and the PLA which makes foreign policy when it comes to militarily important areas, wants to send its own signal on the eve of the visit of the new Chinese premier Li Keqiang to New Delhi in May.

Then, it is also possible that there is a new and more activist PLA commander who is pushing his forces forward and that had the Indian media not raised a hue and cry, the Chinese would have quietly returned.

But one thing we do need to understand. The Line of Control, wherever it is, is an entirely notional line. Unlike the Line of Control with Pakistan, which has been detailed by Indian and Pakistani military surveyors on a mosaic of 20-odd maps, each signed by officers of both sides. In the case of the LAC, both sides claim that the other side knows where it lies. And they also agree that at certain places they have differing perceptions as to where it lies.

The two countries have signed four agreements - in 1993, 1996, 2005 and 2012 to deal with their border dispute; in addition, since 2003, they have created a new institution of the Special Representative level dialogue to resolve the border problem.

However, despite a great deal of "jaw jaw" there is no agreement between the two countries on just where the LAC lies, something they committed to resolve through the 1996 agreement. They have exchanged maps for the central sector, comprising Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, but not of the more contentious eastern and western sectors.


Without a mutually acceptable LAC, there are bound to be what each side terms "incursions" by the other side. In January this year, the two sides signed yet another agreement, this time to establish "a working mechanism for consultation and coordination" to ensure that the steps they have taken to maintain peace in the LAC are implemented efficaciously.

All these agreements have their roots in the 1986-87 border crisis in the eastern sector when the two armies came eyeball to eyeball. In 1983, a high-level decision was taken that in the event of a future conflict, India will defend the monastery town of Tawang in the western part of the North East Frontier Agency.

As part of this exercise, intelligence officials began patrolling forward into what India considers its side of the McMahon Line. One of the places they started visiting was Sumdorong Chu.

However, in the summer of 1986 when they went to the place they found that the Chinese had occupied it. That year the Army had planned an exercise to check their speed of deployment. Using the new heavy lift Mi-26 helicopters, a brigade was quickly landed short of a ridge facing the Chinese.

Alarmed, the Chinese moved their forces forward, and the Indians responded by moving forces along the entire LAC. This coincided with the decision to rename NEFA as Arunachal Pradesh in December 1986.


The Chinese saw red and there was talk of war in the summer of 1987. Fortunately diplomacy cooled tempers and both countries realised that they needed to take steps to control the situation. In 1988 Rajiv Gandhi visited China in return for Zhou Enlai’s 1960 visit and in 1993 the first CBM agreement was signed to prevent future conflict.

Twenty years later, we seem to be back at square one. This time there has been no mobilisation. It does need to be pointed out that from the Indian point of view the DBO area is the worst place for a crisis to take place. This is perhaps the only area across the LAC where we cannot easily deploy counter-force.

Because of the terrain, the nearest road-head is 15 days’ march away and the posts there are maintained by air. The DBO airstrip is too small to support any major deployment, which in any case would be foolhardy because the Chinese have an all-weather highway and connecting roads just hours away.

We are yet to get to the bottom of the mystery of the Chinese actions in the area. But the rhetoric that is coming out from New Delhi and Beijing now seems to suggest that the issue may quietly die down.

As it is, it comes on the eve of External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid’s visit to Beijing, and, more Chinese premier Li Keqiang’s visit to New Delhi. The visits could provide an opportunity for the political leadership on both sides to take a hard look at the past agreements to maintain peace and tranquility along the LAC and figure out just why they don’t seem to be working.

(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, and Contributing Editor of Mail Today)

Courtesy: Daily Mail, UK

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Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi is a Distinguished Fellow at the ORF. He has been a journalist specialising on national and international politics and is a commentator and ...

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