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Monika Chansoria

Dr. Monika Chansoria is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.

China puts pressure on India

Neighbours are right in being apprehensive about China’s intentions.

he India-China border dispute has unpleasantly recurred, establishing yet again that Beijing has kept the border dispute alive as a tactical pressure point against India, despite the clamour in many quarters that "all is well" in Sino-Indian bilateral ties. The Sino-Indian dispute does not simply restrict to the definition of a boundary that could be marked on a map. It also takes on board vast tracts of disputed territorial frontiers, thereby adding to the operational challenges in attempting to revive a barren process that has been in flaccid motion for more than a quarter of a century now. For that matter, China brazenly challenges the total length of the Sino-Indian border, which runs 3,488 km according to the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs.

On 15 April, a platoon-strength contingent approximating 50 soldiers of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) crossed 19 km inside Indian claimed territory in Burthe, in the Daulat Beg Oldi sector in eastern Ladakh and has established their presence by pitching tent posts. Apparently, there have been close to 600 border violations by China since 2010. The magnitude of the latest standoff mirrors the images of the 1986 Sumdorong Chu incident, which witnessed deep intrusions by the PLA into the Sumdorong Chu Valley of Arunachal Pradesh, thereby forcing the Indian Army to launch Operation Falcon in late-1986 with air-lifting an infantry brigade to Zimithang close to Sumdorong Chu. It was only in mid-1987 that the face-off came to an end following intense diplomatic engagement.

The 1993 "Agreement on Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas" was followed by the 1996 "Agreement on Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field along the Line of Actual Control in the China-India Border Areas" and finally the 2005 "Agreement on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Bound Question". Although these mechanisms were ostensibly promising on paper, they have abjectly failed in bringing about any tangible breakthrough to the boundary impasse between Beijing and New Delhi. Unable to resolve the recent standoff as well, China's brawny posturing is not easing the situation whatsoever.

What appears more distressing is that while China is surreptitiously notching up tensions in the Himalayas with India, it simultaneously is swelling up tensions with Japan over the Senkaku Islands as well as in the South China Sea in the garb of protecting what it terms as its "core interests". Beijing has blatantly demonstrated yet again that the entire debate questioning its dubious claims of a "peaceful rise" or "peaceful development", as China has chosen to term it in the recent past, is not simply speculative conjecture, but that the apprehensions of Asian neighbours vis-à-vis China's confrontational politico-military policies has substance to it.

Reiterating mere symbolism, the January 2012 "Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs" aims only to facilitate timely communication of information on the border situation, thereby, holding dismal hope with respect to bringing about any substantial shift in the Chinese policy or thinking on the border issue. Interestingly, Article V of the Mechanism states that it "will not discuss resolution of the Boundary Question or affect the Special Representatives Mechanism." By wake of the latest Chinese intrusion, the new Chinese leadership under Xi Jinping appears to be moving back to its stated position during the 1960s when Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai stated in New Delhi that "there exists a relatively bigger dispute" in the Western Sector, and simultaneously seems inclined to test the waters of political decision-making in New Delhi. Chinese military strategist, Sun Tzu, famously stated, "Engage people with what they expect... It settles them into predictable patterns of response, while you wait for the extraordinary moment — that which they cannot anticipate" —practically demonstrated by China to India in 1962.

I have been arguing for long now that India and China display a peculiar case of "constrained cooperation" with economic convergence of interests tending to only artificially overlook prevailing strategic differences. The fact of the matter remains that these very divergences, of which the territorial and boundary dispute comes foremost, hold the potential of upstaging ties at any given point — as has precisely been the case since the past three weeks.

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