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The Chinese are at it again. Days before President Xi Jinping's arrival in India, possibly with promises of huge investments, his troops were locked eyeball-to-eyeball last week with Indian security forces, an incident serious enough to be escalated to PM Narendra Modi's office.
The face-off started on September 10 around the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Chumar sector of eastern Ladakh, an area which has seen a big increase in Chinese activity this year. According to authoritative government sources, a mixed patrol of Indian Army and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) troops saw more than 200 Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops with 12 heavy vehicles including cranes, bulldozers and a Hummer trying to level a rivulet and construct a temporary road two kilometres into Indian territory.
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According to the army assessment, this was part of a PLA plan to build a road connecting Manza and Kyenjung outposts on the Chinese side of the LAC with Chepzi on the Indian side and install a surveillance camera for area domination and patrolling.
In no mood to allow this, Indian forces confronted the PLA and asked them to withdraw, resulting in no fewer than seven face-offs and even shouting matches. Some 15-20 metres of the temporary track was demolished by the Indian forces during the night of September 10 using heavy equipment.
The latest incident highlights the bitter differences between the two Asian giants despite the likely bonhomie that will mark Xi's first Indian visit. Modi is flying to Ahmedabad to meet Xi, who lands on Wednesday — incidentally the Indian leader's birthday.
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More than 130 Indian troops and 230 Chinese were involved in last week's standoff with additional men brought in on both sides as the situation threatened to deteriorate rapidly. But both sides backed off, with the Chinese deploying two surveillance helicopters to confirm whether the Indian Army troopers had withdrawn to its original position. The whole incident spanned five days.
"The Chinese PLA have increased their troop strength seven to nine times in Chumar over the past year and are involved in construction activity across the disputed LAC," said a senior South Block official, adding that between January and August, there had been 42 intrusions by the Chinese compared with nine transgressions during the same period last year.Despite Indian efforts to exchange maps in the disputed eastern Ladakh or western sector with the Chinese side, Beijing has refused to exchange positions since 2002.