Address the dispute


T

he June incursion of a Chinese helicopter into Indian airspace is alarming not because it posed a military threat to India. Over the past few years, incursions by Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops, inadvertent or otherwise, in Arunachal Pradesh or Leh, have taken place with some degree of regularity. This has been attested to by the Army and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. There is, of course, no knowledge of the number of times Indian troops may have ‘accidentally’ crossed the disputed McMahon Line into Chinese territory.

From the Indian perspective, Chinese transgressions of the mutually agreed Line of Actual Control (LAC) along the disputed Sino-Indian border trigger two related thoughts. First, the humiliating defeat India suffered in 1962 that deeply scarred the national psyche. Secondly, and more importantly, the incursions serve to arouse historical suspicions mixed with contemporary tensions. In 1986, a second war was averted following armed skirmishes at Somdurong Chu in Arunachal Pradesh. China’s continuing military and diplomatic assistance to Pakistan, establishment of electronic listening posts in Myanmar to monitor Indian air and naval activity, stepped-up activity in Tibet and instances of furtive incursions by the PLA have cast a shadow over India. Though Sikkim has been taken out, Chinese maps still show Arunachal Pradesh as Chinese territory. The real reason for New Delhi’s defensive postures stems from its failure to conclude a lasting settlement of the border dispute with Beijing. Hopes of an early end to the dispute brightened when the BJP-led NDA government initiated steps to enter into a purposeful dialogue with Beijing to demarcate and delineate the LAC. In the last five years, however, the Congress-led UPA government’s move on this front has been sluggish to say the least.

Like China, India has, of late, taken some steps to improve civil and military infrastructure and build airbases in the frontier regions to forestall any threat from across the border. That alone will not do. To advance its own interests, New Delhi should take quicker and surer steps to resolve the border dispute with Beijing. Leaving behind a history of mistrust, deeper engagement with China will enable India to better read Chinese capabilities and intentions. What is needed in South Block is a clearheaded China policy underpinned by leverage, gained both from external strategic relationships and domestic military and economic muscle.

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