The recent intrusion by the Chinese in the Burthe area of Depsang valley near Daulet Beg Oldi is different from the numerous earlier violations in the Ladakh sector. On previous occasions, Chinese troops would withdraw across the Line of Control; however, this time they have established a camp approximately 10 km inside the Indian territory.
The two flag meetings and efforts of the ministry of foreign affairs have not resulted in resolution of the problem. Summoning Chinese ambassador Wei Wei to South Bloc and demanding an early resolution of the problem is routine practice not likely to achieve any results. However, in response to the Indian foreign ministry's complaint regarding the intrusion, the Chinese counterpart in Beijing refuted the allegations of ingress. Obviously, this intrusion is part of a well thought-out move.
We have been in dialogue with the Chinese for decades to resolve the alignment of our borders with Tibet. While perception differs between the two sides, China does not appear to be keen to resolve the issue and perhaps sees some long-term advantage in keeping the problem alive. China has settled its border issues with all its neighbours except India. This policy of keeping the border problem with India alive needs to be seen in the light of other actions by China in the periphery of India and the much talked-about policy of 'string of pearls' around this country.
Chinese have been keen that India accept the 'draft agreement' worked out by it, wherein India is called upon to refrain from increasing its troop strength along the Tibet border and development of communications and military infrastructure. China's opposition to any increase in Indian deployment along the border is related to the threat it can, when so required, pose to its lines of communication to Western Tibet and beyond.
India is raising some divisions in the eastern sector and there is this deferred proposal of raising a corps. Though some other provisions in the 'draft agreement' are useful for both sides, it is this one clause, which is designed to limit Indian response to any problem China may create along the Tibet border. Objection to Indian defence works in the area needs to be seen in this light.
The present action of establishing a camp deep inside the Indian territory could be linked to the Indian defence minister's visit to China and Chinese premier Li Keqiang's visit to India. In the past too, such incidents have preceded visits of Chinese high dignitaries to this country, be it the claim over Arunachal Pradesh, or visas for those from that state and Jammu and Kashmir or cartographic aggression. This appears to be part of Chinese pressure tactics.
China has been in occupation of Indian territory in Aksai Chin while Pakistan gifted the Shaksgam Valley to it. Now Pakistan has leased out parts of Gilgit-Baltistan region of PoK to China, where the later has already commenced work to link Karakoram highway to the Gwadar Port of Pakistan. This port is being developed by China to serve as a base for its navy in the Indian Ocean and for transporting oil by land route.
The gap between the military capabilities of the two countries has widened so much that India is no better at present as compared to 1962. Besides lack of development of infrastructure along the Tibet border, Indian army is at least a decade behind China in the field of military's modernisation. China has been developing military infrastructure from mainland to Tibet and within it, coming right up to the border, at a furious pace. On the Indian side, of all people, it is the ministry of finance which tells us that there is no threat from China in the foreseeable future! So those who talk of a military option to the present 'stand-off ' seem to be oblivious to the ground realities. Some issues have the possibility of spinning out of control: remember 1962! Some others advocate using the Tibet card, forgetting that we handed over that card to China long ago when we accepted Tibet as an integral part of that country.
China has been adopting an aggressive posture against some of its neighbours, including Japan, in the area of Daioyu islands. It is part of its expansionist policy, which in one way or the other is related to securing markets for its goods and sources of energy. Chinese exports to India need to be linked to its good conduct along the border, resolving the border and the river water issues. Indian market is something which China just cannot forego. Herein lies Chinese Achilles' heel. As it is, there is considerable imbalance in the trade between these two countries, in that it is entirely in China's favour, discounting the enormous under-invoicing that Indian businessmen are doing in importing goods from that country.
(The writer is a commentator on defence and security issues. Views expressed are personal)