Chopper intrusion: Beijing signals hardening of stand

Chopper intrusion: Beijing signals hardening of stand
The recent intrusion by two Chinese helicopters into Indian airspace in Uttarakhand signalled that Beijing had hardened its position even on the less-contentious middle sector of the disputed Sino-India boundary.

Two helicopters of People's Liberation Army Air Force were seen hovering over Barahoti in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand on Saturday. New Delhi took a serious note of the incident, as it signalled that China might shift to a hardline approach in its negotiations with India to resolve the dispute over boundary – even on the less contentious “middle sector” or the stretches in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Sources told the DH that Beijing had apparently hardened its position in response to New Delhi's decision to allow Dalai Lama to visit Arunachal Pradesh – the frontier state, which had since long been at the centre of the dispute over boundary between India and China.

Dalai Lama – the icon of Tibetans' protest against Chinese rule over their homeland – visited the state in April. The visit had irked Beijing as it accuses the Buddhist monk of pursuing an agenda to split China. Beijing had even warned New Delhi that it would take “necessary measures to defend its territorial sovereignty and legitimate rights and interests” in response.

Sources the DH spoke to in New Delhi are of the view that the PLA-AF choppers' intrusion into the airspace of India was a subtle move by China to re-assert its claims on areas along its disputed boundary in the middle sector.

It came just months after the communist nation signalled its renewed interest in settling the territorial row in a piecemeal manner – beginning with the stretches in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh and then going for settlement in more contentious western (stretches in Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir) and eastern (Arunachal Pradesh) sectors .

An early-harvest agreement on boundary was one of the four proposals China's ambassador to India, Luo Zhaohui, put forward in January this year to add new momentum to the bilateral relations between the two nations. He reiterated the proposals in a speech delivered at United Service Institution in New Delhi early last month.

India and China had in fact made substantial progress in resolving the dispute in the middle sector of the boundary and even exchanged maps in 2001.

The process, however, did not advance much in the past one-and-a-half decade, even as Special Representatives of the two nations continued negotiations to settle the boundary dispute in its entirety.

New Delhi is yet to make it clear if it is in favour of a piecemeal solution – beginning with the middle sector – of the row over boundary, or would wait for a comprehensive deal to resolve the dispute in one go.

Hua Chunying, a spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Chinese Government, defended the choppers' foray across the Line of Actual Control or the de-facto border between India and China as “regular border patrol” by the military of the communist nation. She also noted that China and India had disputes over territory along the Middle Sector of the boundary.

External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, told journalists that Chinese choppers' intrusion into the airspace of India was “unacceptable” for New Delhi.

She said that India would lodge a protest with Delhi over the incident.

New Delhi's complex and troubled relations with Beijing was strained further last month, as India turned down an invitation from China to attend a conclave of international leaders hosted by Chinese President to drum up support for his ambitious cross-continental connectivity initiative “One-Belt-One-Road”.

India claims that China was illegally occupying approximately 38,000 sq. kms of areas in Jammu and Kashmir. Besides, Islamabad in 1963 illegally ceded to Beijing 5,180 Sq. Kms of areas that India blames Pakistan of illegally occupying in Jammu and Kashmir. China claims approximately 90,000 sq. kms. of areas in Arunachal Pradesh of India, in addition to about 2000 sq. kms. in the middle sector of the boundary.

The Special Representatives of India and China have been holding negotiations to resolve the long-pending boundary dispute since 2003. They reached an agreement in 2005 on the political parameters and guiding principles for settlement of the dispute. They have since been engaged in talks to develop a framework to resolve the dispute. The framework will will be followed by actual demarcation of the border.

The current Special Representatives – Prime Minister Narendra Modi's National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and China's State Councilor Yang Jiechi – had the 19th round of the parleys in Beijing in April 2016. They agreed to hold the 20th round in New Delhi later this year.

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