Page 1 of 2 China's border rows mirror grim history
By Peter Lee
Two PRC territorial disputes open doors on two competing paths to Asia's future.
Door Number 1 - the sudden Sino-Indian confrontation in Ladakh - leads to the further development of the current Asian security regime as a network of bilateral relationships. Behind Door Number 2 - the festering Senkaku crisis - appears to lead to a multipolar regime with a powerful new independent player, uncertainty and danger. Asia's security future will follow one of these paths, but which one?
Events on the Indian-Chinese border have a distinctly familiar flavor. As in 1962, there is tension in Ladakh. Once again, the
PRC is being blamed for an incursion. And once again, it appears that the international press is getting the story ass-backwards.
The story in the US press is that Chinese forces have barged 19 kilometers across the Line of Actual Control in the area of the Depsang Bulge to set up tents in a bleak, 17,000-foot (5,000-meter) high flat spot near the Karakorum Pass as part of the Chinese campaign to nibble away at the Indian position in Aksai Chin and demonstrate the appeasement-inclined spinelessness of the Singh government.
Understandably, it is viewed as inexplicable that the PRC is getting so chesty with India just before Premier Li Keqiang's state visit to New Delhi. As usual, when confronted with an implausible narrative, the reaction is to attribute the cognitive dissonance to Chinese irrationality, in this case to the PLA going "off the reservation" to make trouble on its own kick, demonstrating the party and state's inability to control its military.
AP provided the soundbite:
Manoj Joshi, a defense analyst at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, said the timing of the incursion raises questions about "whether there is infighting within the Chinese leadership, or whether someone is trying to upstage Li". 
Actually, it looks like the disarray is probably in Western noggins and not inside the CCP and PLA.
Drawing on a source who attended an Indian military briefing, Calcutta's The Telegraph posted a graphic that is well worth clicking on.
It illustrates that there is apparently no "Line of Actual Control" in the disputed region that is mutually acknowledged by India and the PRC. Instead, there are two "Lines of Perception". The Chinese claim they control a swath of land 10 km thisaway and the Indians claim they control a 10 km swath of land thataway.
So there's a 10-km wide band of unpopulated and desolate wasteland whose "actual control" could be up for grabs.
In the past, both sides have patrolled this no-man's land but make a point of not setting up permanent facilities inside it so that the zone would not become focus of a competitive exercise in asserting control, and part of a wider fracas.
It is not a matter of dispute that the PLA has moved troops into the area. But the troops are camping out in tents for now - non-permanent facilities in keeping with the traditional live-and-let-live precedent for the area.
At the same time, the PRC is demanding that the Indian government dismantle bunkers and other permanent installations in the area. Permanent installations could very possibly represent an effort by the Indian military to transform "perceived control" of the disputed zone into "actual control".
On the Internet, assertions have surfaced that the Chinese incursion was in response to the Indian military's establishment of a permanent facility at Rika Nullah, inside the disputed zone. (It should be pointed out that a "permanent facility" in the bleak environs of Aksai Chin might simply be a few sheets of galvanized metal formed into a hut).
If this is true, a rather logical narrative emerges.
As the Times of India reporting indicates, the tussle over the "perceived control" of the "Depsung Bulge" looks like something of an inevitable glitch to be ironed out as both sides pour money, infrastructure, and forces into the area to institutionalize their "actual control" and jockey for the control of swaths of useful but not particularly vital "perceived control" territories before the security curtain comes down for good - and, hopefully, peace reigns on a well-defined and well-secured border.
The 15-day continuing face-off between troops at 16,300-feet, in a way, boils down to infrastructure build-up along the unresolved 4,057-km long Line of Actual Control (LAC). China has been assiduously strengthening it for well over two decades but has now objected to India's belated attempts to counter the moves.
India's re-activation of the advanced landing grounds (ALGS) at Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO), Fukche and Nyoma as well as construction of some temporary posts and bunkers at Chumar and Fukche near the LAC in eastern Ladakh over the last four to five years in particular has incensed China. The DBO airstrip, for instance, overlooks the strategic Karakoram Pass, while the Fukche ALG is barely 5 km from the LAC. 
As part of an overall strategy to formalize and assert its control over the border regions, perhaps the Indian government decided it is time to take a serious nibble out of the Depsung Bulge.
Or the Indian military, which (unlike the PLA) has a long and noble history of advancing its priorities and prerogatives in disregard for the civilian leadership, decides it wishes to create its own Senkaku moment, using the bulge as a territorial gambit.
Or the PRC did decide to commit an unprovoked incursion, squatting on bulge land in order to have a bargaining chip to get the Indian government to stand down on some of its more impressive and alarming military improvements in Ladakh. I consider this unlikely, not because of the essential law-abiding benevolence of the Chinese government but because it isn't going to work. The Indian army (and its inescapable cohort, Indian nationalist public opinion) is not going to let the Indian government wind down military assets in uncontested border territory.
In any case, the Chinese government, interested in gauging the intentions of the Indian government, sent in 50 soldiers to pitch five tents at Rika Nullah. The Indian army sent in its soldiers to pitch its tents "eyeball to eyeball".
The stage is now set for Li Keqiang to meet with Monmohan Singh and find a satisfactory way out of this ridiculous dispute.
In the big scheme of things, China is probably quite keen for good relations with India. Japan is another matter, and the Senkaku dispute - over another chunk of unimportant real estate - is considerably more unsettling.
World diplomacy is realigning in President Barack Obama's second term. The confrontational "pivot to Asia" is morphing into a "rebalancing" the makes a place for China inside the structure where together with India as observers they can ponder a more alarming case of deja vu than Indian nationalists' desire for a do-over on the 1962 war: the parallels between Germany in the 1930s and Shinzo Abe's Japan today.
This is not to say that Prime Minister Abe is a genocidal maniac determined to ignite a catastrophic world war. It is to say that some of the imperatives and opportunities that informed Germany back then and are also present in Japan today - ones that can be addressed without recourse to personalities, thereby avoiding indictment under Godwin's Law (the tongue-in-cheek rule that any Internet discussion of contemporary events invoking the name of a certain German dictator is prima facie discredited).
Consider that in its place in the international order Japan today is pretty much at the same spot Germany was in 1933: ready to shed the disarmament restrictions imposed by its conquerors (Versailles Treaty for Germany and the pacifist constitution for Japan) and reassume its role as a full-fledged (and unrestrained) member of the global community.
Impatience with foreign impositions is exacerbated by economic malaise created by the same group of foreigners who are gumming up the military works (Great Depression for Germany; Great Recession for Japan) and the concurrent transformation of a large but impoverished and dysfunctional neighbor into a rapidly growing and threatening force (the USSR for Germany; the PRC for Japan).
With the old order discredited, national rebirth becomes a matter of urgency and is heralded by a leader determined to throw off the restraints that have been shackling the military and economy, and swagger across the world stage in a manner that gratifies and electrifies the nation (he-who-must-not-be-named for Germany, Shinzo Abe for Japan).
Vulnerable territories are protected (Rhineland for Germany, Senkakus for Japan) and lost ones recovered (Saar for Germany, the Soviet-occupied Kuriles, maybe, for Japan). A risky and balance-sheet busting economic stimulus program (with a healthy military component) is enacted to translate the perfection of sovereignty and national spirit into national vitality (Germany's massive exercise in Keynesian stimulus and Japan's "Abenomics").
A newly assertive foreign policy requires strengthened alliances to deal with the big unfriendly neighbor (the Anti-Comintern pact for Germany and the US pivot architecture for Japan).