Keeping cool

National Security Advisor M K Narayanan’s assertion that India perceives no threat from China, in response to an alarmist and erroneous reporting in a section of the media, is meant to allay any misgivings the Chinese might harbour following these reports. Even the Chief of Army Staff General Deepak Kapoor highlighted that Chinese incursions were not a cause for concern. The Indian Army’s exercise along the Chinese border, ‘Operation Alert’ has been described as no more than an annual exercise.

Yet the problem arises because the LAC is not clearly demarcated by either side and results in patrol clashes between troops from time to time. To complicate matters, the hostile terrain and adverse climatic conditions reduce visibility resulting in unintended errors of territorial transgressions. Given these realities, Indian and Chinese troops patrol the contiguous borders in tune with their perceptions of the border marked by piles of stones or other physical features at various points. In view of this, intrusions from an Indian point of view may not necessarily be so from a Chinese comprehension of the situation and vice versa. The last major hiccup between India and China was the 1986-87 Sumdorung Chu episode which almost resulted in an eye ball to eye ball situation between troops on either side. The upshot was a thaw in bilateral relations between the two neighbours which was broken when Rajiv Gandhi and Deng Xioping met at Beijing in December 1988. The two sides signed an Agreement on Confidence Building Measures in the military field in November 1996 to help maintain peace and tranquillity along the border.

Otherwise the two neighbours have learnt over two decades through the art of diplomacy how to manage the border dispute though it remains an unresolved issue. As part of this process is to engage in umpteen rounds of dialogue at the diplomatic, economic and military levels. As a result, the two countries have managed to make progress on various other facets of their relationship with each other. However lately the irritants in India-China ties revolve around the Indian build up of military force levels in the border state of Arunachal Pradesh, New Delhi’s proximity to Washington and the Dalai Lama’s proposed visit to  Arunachal in November. India needs to convince China that it has its own priorities in international affairs and they need not be seen as being hostile actions.

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