The reports of at least 40 People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops intruding and camping at Debsung Bulge, 30 km south of Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) and almost 10 kilometer inside the Indian territory has once again cast the shadow of mutual distrust and security deficit between India and China. It has also vitiated the atmosphere in India and perhaps in China too just before the forthcoming visit of the newly elected Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang to India in May. It appears that we are heading towards the repeat of Hu Jintao’s India visit in 2006.
Chinese media has been silent on the incident of incursion but have frequently reported the Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) sector ‘camp confrontation’ regularly in its media, primarily reporting the coverage of the incident in the Indian print and electronic media. These have been published in military and non military websites such as http://www.junshiniba.com/qinggan/2013-04-24/4166.html ,http://www.qianzhan.com/indynews/detail/256/130424-888bc4e9.html , http://www.daozhou.net/news/china/20130424/43060.shtml , http://i.ifeng.com/news/guoji/news?aid=58968452&mid=, http://www.daozhou.net/news/china/20130424/43044.shtml including People’s Daily’s tabloid the Global Times. The Chinese media reports say that the confrontation has flared up with the Indian decision to mobilize an infantry regiment from the nearby region to put pressure on China. Quoting Indian sources, these reports mention that the stand-off has continued even after the second flag meeting between the troops. These reports have covered the statements of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs that have sought withdrawal of the Chinese troops and call for a status quo in the area. Summoning of the Chinese ambassador in India has also been reported. The websites have also quoted China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswomen, Hua Chunying making a statement that “the two parties have maintained good communication and coordination on the border issue.” Denying the reports of incursion Ms Hua has maintained that the Chinese troops had “patrolled the border line and did not go one step across the Line of Actual Control.”
In India it has also been reported that it was not just an intrusion by the PLA border guards, but also the violation of Indian air space, as the intrusion was supported by the PLA Choppers. Ever since the incident has been reported, India has tried to play down the incident and has attempted to resolve it through existing mechanisms even though it has blamed China for increased assertiveness and frequent incursions in recent years. India has asked China to revert back to the pre incursion position and maintain status quo. Indian Defense Minister, Mr. Antony has also expressed that talks are on at various level to find a peaceful solution to the problem. The fact that Indian Foreign Minister, Salman Khurshid putting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s India visit above these incursion, and also that India has dispatched a defense delegation to China to work out the details of forthcoming hand-in-hand military exercises, shows that India is serious in maintaining good neighborly relations with China, and wishes the same from China. However, even though China has called for a calm it has also been reported that China is adamant to pull back, it has rather asked India to dismantle its posts from the disputed territory.
It is understood that these incursions do occur from both sides owing to different perceptions and positions on the LAC, for the Sino-Indian border has never been demarcated on the ground and both sides hold their own version of the boundary line, and hence the LAC. Between 1993 and 2005 both countries have agreed to a set of confidence building measures (CBMs) along the LAC and have suggested ways and methods to resolve such issues. For example the Article 1 of the 1993 CBMs clearly stipulates that “the two sides shall strictly respect and observe the line of actual control between the two sides. No activities of either side shall overstep the line of actual control. In case personnel of one side cross the line of actual control, upon being cautioned by the other side, they shall immediately pull back to their own side of the line of actual control. When necessary, the two sides shall jointly check and determine the segments of the line of actual control where they have different views as to its alignment.” Article 4 of the same agreement says “In case of contingencies or other problems arising in the areas along the line of actual control, the two sides shall deal with them through meetings and friendly consultations between border” Article 5 talks about air intrusion and states that adequate measures should be taken to ensure that “air intrusions across the line of actual control do not take place and shall undertake mutual consultations should intrusions occur.”
Article 1 of the 1996 CBMs in the same vein calls thatno side should engage in military activities that threaten the other side or undermine peace. Article 6 and section 4 of the agreement which has also been quoted by the MEA stipulates that “if the border personnel of the two sides come in a face-to-face situation due to differences on the alignment of the line of actual control or any other reason, they shall exercise self-restraint and take all necessary steps to avoid an escalation of the situation. Both sides shall also enter into immediate consultations through diplomatic and/or other available channels to review the situation and prevent any escalation of tension.” Interestingly, Article 9 of the agreement stipulates that “in case a doubtful situation develops in the border region, or in case one of the sides has some questions or doubts regarding the manner in which the other side is observing this Agreement, either side has the right to seek a clarification from the other side. The clarifications sought and replies to them shall be conveyed through diplomatic channels.”
Article 9 of the 2005 agreement between India and China also invokes these two agreements when it states that “Pending an ultimate settlement of the boundary question, the two sides should strictly respect and observe the line of actual control and work together to maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas. The India-China Joint Working Group and the India-China Diplomatic and Military Expert Group shall continue their work under the Agreements of 7 September 1993 and 29 November 1996, including the clarification of the line of actual control and the implementation of confidence building measures.”
All these agreements clearly stipulate the rules of engagement in the LAC areas clearly. However, it appears that owing to different perceptions these stipulations have not been followed and implemented in right spirit. Especially, in the face of such incursions, one may ask whether the Indian side has invoked Article 9 of the 1996 CBMs previously/presently or not. Whether they have sought any clarification from China when in doubt that China was not observing the agreement? It appears that India has been reactive to such incidents and has not been persistent in its approach. Many in India are also apprehensive about China’s definition of India-China boundary, for it does not consider the western sector as part of the disputed border thus trying to match the so called fait accompli of India in the eastern sector to its own in the western sector. If such is the case, China has deviated from its earlier position about the border whereby it has considered all the three sectors of India-China boundary as disputed. If there is such a shift, it definitely is a cause of concern, and we would see the situation deteriorating and escalating to dangerous proportions.
The need of the hour is not to flare up the tension, as both India and China cannot afford to not respect the wishes of their people for a better livelihood and an environment that is conducive for economic development and peace. The media on both sides need to play an increasingly constructive and responsible role, and desist from sensationalizing the issue. The issue must be settled as soon as possible using each and every existing mechanism at various levels. The issue should not be allowed to snowball lest it jeopardize exchanges at all levels including the trade and investment. Finally, it also reminds us of the fragility of our bilateral relations, and urgency to settle the border once and for all so as a way is paved for an all round and robust relationship.
(Prof B R Deepak is Professor of Chinese and China Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. The views expressed are his own. He could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)