India plays down Chinese incursions
By Priyanka Bhardwaj
NEW DELHI - Reports of incursions into Indian territory by the Chinese have
been on the rise in recent weeks.
The reports include the injury of two soldiers from the ITBP (Indo-Tibetan
Border Police Force) in firing from across the border into the northeastern
Indian state Arunachal Pradesh, portions of which China claims as its own.
Other reports claim Chinese aircraft have transgressed into Indian air space,
among other infringements along the disputed 3,500-kilometer Line of Actual
Control, as the India-China border is referred to.
In Ladakh, part of the northern state of Kashmir, Chinese intruders
reportedly painted rocks red to mark their presence.
There are also instances of Chinese issuing separate visas to Indian passport
holders from the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, a delicate matter given the
long history of conflict with Pakistan over the state.
India's diplomatic reaction, however, has been to play down the events. Federal
Foreign Minister S M Krishna said, "This [India-China boundary in Ladakh] is
one of the most peaceful boundaries. We have no dispute with China in this
area. There is an in-built mechanism to deal with such issues."
Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorji Khandu said the additional deployment of
troops is a routine drill to help soldiers acclimatize with the high
altitude, and not an "eyeball-to-eyeball" confrontation.
Dorji was responding to reports that India is fortifying its border positions
with China by readying 30,000 troops in two divisions for quick deployment
coupled with beefing up the Indian Air Force along the Sino-Indian border.
At one level, the incidents could be seen as a continuation of past skirmishes
and also an overreaction by a hypersensitive media.
On the other hand, these can also be indications of things to come even as the
two emerging Asian giants fight for resources, energy and influence in the
region, including the Indian Ocean corridors.
The fact remains that all is not well between the two countries, which went to
war over disputed Himalayan border territory in 1962. experts estimate that
Chinese violations of Indian-territory have doubled from nearly 150 in 2007 to
300 in 2008.
Global strategic positioning means that India and China are pitted in diverse
In the past couple of years, one main reason America has sought to cement India
as its partner in Asia has been to balance the rise of China, both economically
Apart from the India-US civilian nuclear deal last year, America and India are
emerging as partners in defense and counter-terrorism.
Given the stiff competition in business as well, the air of suspicion that
continues to persist between India and China will not go away in a hurry.
New Delhi has thus not taken too kindly to Chinese attempts to "gatecrash"'
plans for an Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, as India remains undecided about
its participation due to security, pricing issues and pressure from America not
to deal with Tehran.
In March 2009, China attempted to block a US$2.9 billion loan to India from the
Asian Development Bank, meant to fund a $60 million flood management program in
Last year, Beijing tried to obstruct the US-India civilian nuclear deal at the
meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
All along, China has vehemently opposed India's bid to join the United Nations
Security Council, while remaining a staunch supporter of India's traditional
rival, Pakistan, at international forums.
Cultural, linguistic and other differences are believed to have hampered
Indians and Chinese developing ties at a personal level. This is unlike Indians
and Pakistanis, where similarities have led to emotional ties and created a
constituency that wants peace.
Thus, despite the top diplomatic channels maintaining a dignified
tone over recent events, the Indian armed forces and political leadership
are not prepared to take chances.
The Indian parliamentary standing committee attached to the Foreign Ministry
looking at Chinese incursions is also studying the situation.
Some observers said that a worrying factor is that skirmishes have been along
areas that have been relatively peaceful and not disputed by Beijing lately -
this includes the Sikkim-Tibet border and Uttarakhand, which have been agreed
upon through an exchange of maps between the two countries.
Opposition political parties such as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the All
India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Samajwadi Party have been
voicing their fears. Rajnath Singh, president of the BJP, said, "India must
take adequate precautions [given the 1962 war]."
Meanwhile, India's army chief, General Deepak Kapoor, has also voiced his
concern over the recent reported incursions, suggesting that the situation is
more serious than is being projected. Top Indian commanders have been visiting
the Indo-China border areas of Ladakh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal
Pradesh to make first-hand assessments.
The Indian army's northern commander, Lieutenant General P C Bharadwaj is
visiting the Leh-based 14 Corps headquarters to verify the authenticity of the
Earlier this month, the air force opened a runway near the China border in the
inhospitable terrain of Ladakh to fixed-wing aircraft, previously the area
could be accessed only by helicopters. There are also plans to upgrade many
runways in Arunachal.
In July, India for the first time based its latest Russian Sukhoi-30 MKI Air
Dominance fighters in Tezpur in the northeast, in response to China's build-up
of military infrastructure in Tibet and south China.
India has also been wary of the Chinese naval bases, commercial ports,
radar and refueling stations around the southern coast of Asia, referred to as
the "string of pearls" that could be tightened around India, should the need
Chinese investment, meanwhile, has proliferated in Bangladesh, Myanmar,
Thailand, Cambodia and Pakistan.
In 2006, China allegedly supported the Maoist violence in Nepal that resulted
in the overthrow of the monarchy. Given its own problems with leftist rebels,
India is not happy about any role for Beijing in Kathmandu.
There have been reports that the Research and Analysis Wing, India's external
intelligence agency, has found over 24 Nepal-China study centers along the
Indo-Nepal border that are claimed to be "spying'' on India.
In Sri Lanka, India has claimed that China took advantage of the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam-led civil strife to gain a foothold in the island to set
up a port at Hambontota on the island's southern coast.
Still, neither India nor China want the situation to spiral out of control,
which would damage bilateral trade approaching $60 billion per year.
National Security Adviser M K Narayanan, who reports directly to Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh, has maintained that there cannot be a "repeat" of the 1962 war
as both countries mutually agree that borders issues and outstanding
differences can be resolved through dialogue. Narayanan has said: "In terms of
the number of incursions, there has been hardly any increase. Occasionally
inroads are a little deeper than what might have been in the past. I don't
think there is anything alarming about it.'
Narayanan has also warned that the "media hype" on China and India could
provoke an "unwarranted incident or accident".
Nirupama Rao, foreign secretary and former ambassador to China, says that given
the developing nature of the relationship between India and China, regular
communication over important bilateral issues and border meetings has worked
well in the recent past.
Clearly, there is a damage control mechanism at work, at least for now, but the
simmering can be expected to continue.
Priyanka Bhardwaj is a journalist based in New Delhi. She can be reached
at [email protected]
(Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please
contact us about
sales, syndication and