Even as China prepared to lay out the red carpet for vice-president Hamid Ansari in Beijing, its troops intruded into the Indian side of the Pangong lake in eastern Ladakh this week, aggressively underlining their claim over the disputed water body.
South Block sources said that Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) boats came 5.5 kilometres into the Indian portion of the saltwater lake, the larger part of which lies under Chinese control in the Autonomous Region of Tibet. The incursion, which happened on June 24 and lasted over two hours, involved four high-speed Chinese interceptor boats that were pushed back by Indian troops on US-built interceptor vessels.
Ansari, whose delegation includes commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman, is in the Chinese capital to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Panchsheel Agreement over the weekend. He will meet Chinese premier Li Keqiang and president Xi Jinping.
The Chinese political leadership has been making all the right noises since Narendra Modi became PM.
However, analysts expect the relationship to be driven more by commerce than any real warmth.
“While Chinese leadership wants PM Narendra Modi to visit Beijing after president Xi Jinping’s visit to India this year, time has come for both sides to clarify the LAC in the western sector as border violations are mounting and this could again lead to a flare-up like the Depsang incident in April 2013,” said a senior official, referring to a tense standoff in Jammu and Kashmir last year.
The northern bank of Pangong Tso has especially bitter memories for India because it was a theatre of conflict in the 1962 war, and has become a source of concern of late due to repeated Chinese forays across the Line of Actual Control. The picturesque lake, 134 km long and at a height of 4,350 metres above sea level, has seen 12 face-offs between Indian and Chinese troops this year alone. China has also been upgrading infrastructure on its side of the border, worrying the Indians.
“In 2013, there were no less than 18 face-offs between Indian and Chinese troops in Pangong Tso due to serious difference in perception on the LAC and also due to massive Chinese infrastructure build-up close to the line,” said a senior government official.
On June 24, the four Chinese high-speed interceptor boats were spotted moving from Srijap I posts around 8.25 am to Srijap VIII, VI and V detachments on northern banks of the lake. Twenty minutes later, Indian troops on the four American- made boats moved from Thukang base and intercepted Chinese vessels. The two sides first were locked in a face-off and then conducted a so-called banner drill to remind the other side of the Line.