India has cancelled air force chief Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne’s upcoming visit to China, signalling its reluctance to go into “diplomatic overdrive” to engage Beijing in the wake of increased Chinese aggression along the line of actual control (LAC).
New Delhi is trying a delicate balancing act to stabilise bilateral ties, plagued by territorial disputes in the northern and eastern sectors.
Browne’s visit may have been called off, but joint army exercises with China are on track — scheduled to be held in the Chengdu military region in November after a gap of almost five years.
“We want to deepen engagement with Beijing, but don’t want to be seen as bending over backwards. There’s been a flurry of visits by top Indian officials to China. However, there have been few reciprocal visits,” a top government official said, explaining why Browne’s September visit —planned nearly one year back — had been called off.
While external affairs minister Salman Khurshid, defence minister AK Antony and national security advisor Shivshankar Menon have already visited China this year, PM Manmohan Singh and army chief General Bikram Singh are scheduled to visit Beijing separately toward the year-end.
This would have been one of the last foreign visits by Browne — the country’s senior-most-military commander — before demitting office on December 31.
India and China have held 16 rounds of talks to resolve border dispute amidst increasing aggressive posturing by China along the LAC.
In April, the countries were caught in a three-week tense diplomatic stand-off when People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops took up positions and pitched tents 19 km into Indian territory in the sensitive Ladakh sector.
Even as the two sides are negotiating a new border framework as a step toward resolving the territorial dispute, Chinese soldiers not only came 20-30 km into the Indian side in the Northeast in August but also stayed on for three days.
India has met Chinese aggression with countermeasures. On August 20, the Indian Air Force landed a C-130J ‘Super Hercules’ aircraft --- configured for special operations and airborne assault --- at the world’s highest airstrip in north-eastern Ladakh, barely eight km from the LAC.
In July, the government cleared a mountain strike corps, with more than 45,000 soldiers, for the Northeast. The offensive capability to counter a rising Chinese military will come at a cost of more than Rs. 62,000 crore.