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Hindustan Times
New Delhi, May 06, 2013
The border standoff between India and China seems to have been resolved in a manner that seems to combine the best of diplomatic and military pressure. This has come after a few weeks of tension that had threatened to severely disrupt the initial political engagement with the new leadership in China. On the face of it, the mutual troop withdrawal was a sensible compromise. The two military outposts were untenable given the isolation of the Depsang plateau and the inclement weather that it faces. Neither government was in a position to make any concession that looked even remotely lop-sided in favour of the other. Whatever happened, the solution would have to be broadly reciprocal. Nonetheless, there can be no doubt that China has been the instigator of the present crisis. New Delhi was caught unawares by the sudden intrusion. That it took place just weeks before the Indian external affairs minister was to travel to Beijing and the Chinese premier was to make a return visit, makes China's actions especially troubling.

There can also be no doubt that the area of Eastern Ladakh in which the standoff took place is not in dispute - India's sovereignty over this area is something that China's own maps and diplomatic communications have acknowledged since the 1950s. India may withdraw its troops for the purposes of this encounter, but it is hoped that they will be back there, patrolling, as soon as it is possible. Also, China's demands that India halt or dismantle its new border defence infrastructure should be rejected out of hand. It is well known that China has built a complex and intricate defence infrastructure across the southern edge of Tibet. India has belatedly begun to build this infrastructure only in the past five years. Beijing obviously wants to preserve this mismatch as this ensures that it holds the edge in any land conflict with India. India must not back down on this front as this, in effect, would mean waving a white flag on the border. A more fundamental problem is the frequency with which such border flare-ups occur. The 2005 protocol governing how the militaries of both sides handle localised disputes needs to be reconsidered by both sides. The past practice of brushing these incidents under a carpet of secrecy must also come to an end. It is impractical to expect that such things will stay hidden and result in the odd case that does surface, becoming magnified out of proportion in the public sphere.

India and China have a mutually beneficial relationship in the economic space. The two fail to bind on the political front. This is not a problem. What needs to be worked out is an understanding that ensures that political friction does not spark a military fire. This modus vivendi is the missing part of this bilateral relationship - a goal only put back by the sort of incidents that happened at Depsang.