Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The dangerous game of perceptional border intrusion

My article The dangerous game of perceptional border intrusion appeared in yesterday's edition of DNA.

September 20, 2011
News agencies reported that Chinese troops recently entered into Indian territory and destroyed bunkers in Chumar division of Nyoma tashil, some 300 km south of Leh, the capital of Ladakh.
A few days later, the situation seemed rather confused: while some reports said that the Chinese troops used helicopters to intrude into Indian territory, others affirmed that the choppers landed in Chinese territory, close to the LAC and later the PLA troops walked into the ‘disputed’ area to dismantle old bunkers and remove tents belonging to the ITBP.
As usual, the Indian Army first denied that anything had happened. Col Rajesh Kalia stated that he did not have any report of helicopters landing or any destruction of bunkers (later, it was stated that Chinese troops might have penetrated 200m into India by mistake).
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu also denied the intrusions. She affirmed with a straight face that China “has never taken action that jeopardises peace and tranquility in border areas,” mentioning that Delhi and Beijing have reached ‘a principled consensus’ to set up a border affairs coordination mechanism to “handle major border affairs that have a bearing on peace and tranquility in border areas.”
Well, this does not stop incursions. Last year, PLA troops had crossed over the Line of Actual Control (LAC) near Demchok, in southeastern Ladakh. Motorcycle-borne PLA personnel had driven into Gombir area on the Indian side of the LAC. At that time, they had threatened an Indian contractor and ordered him to stop constructing a ‘passenger shed’.
The Chief of Army Staff, General VK Singh, had then declared: “the ‘so-called’ intrusions took place due to perceptional differences about the LAC between India and China, an issue which is being addressed by the two countries through discussion.”
Many commentators found it regrettable that the army chief should speak of ‘so-called intrusions’. Either the ‘intrusions’ took place or they did not. Further, ‘perceptional’ meant nothing. The Chinese ‘perceive’ the entire Arunachal Pradesh as theirs. What conclusions should the army make?
Regarding Demchog, the ‘perceptions’ of both countries had been discussed in detail during the 1960 extensive border talks. At one point during the negotiations Dr S Gopal, the head of the Historical Division, remarked that Demchog was the place where the ‘perceptions’ between the two sides were the closest. The Chinese side was not far from agreeing with the historical facts presented by India. Fifty years later, the closeness of the ‘perceptions’ seems to have gone with the wind of the high plateau. It is not a healthy situation: India has to constantly deny facts.
Remember the road cutting through Aksai Chin, also in Ladakh. Delhi started complaining to Beijing about it several years after it was constructed. In one letter to Nehru in December 1959, Zhou Enlai, then Chinese premier, pointed out that the Aksai Chin was the ‘traditional route’ through which PLA units had entered Ngari region of Tibet from Sinkiang: “In the nine years since then [1950], they have been making regular and busy use of this route to bring supplies. …so many activities were carried out by the Chinese side in this area under its jurisdiction, and yet the Indian side was utterly unaware of them. This is eloquent proof that this area has indeed always been under Chinese jurisdiction and not under Indian jurisdiction.”
In other words, if India today is unable to publicly and loudly claim what belongs to her, in a few years the Chinese will say: “but you never claimed this area.”
There is worse in the Eastern Sector: in 2007, it came out that China had moved 20 km into India and occupied areas including the Sumdorong Chu valley.
One remembers that mid-1986, the PLA had built some structure at Wandung in the Sumdorong Chu valley in the northwestern part of Arunachal Pradesh. The Indian Army reacted swiftly and in August 1986, India and China had a serious eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation. After a tense week, both sides mutually agreed to withdraw their forces and create a no man’s land. Today, the Chinese seem to be back again and unfortunately India does not have the guts it had then.
Kiren Rijiju, the then MP from West Arunachal had told DNA in 2007 that the Chinese had a helipad in Sumdorong Chu Valley.
Rijiju had brandished written replies from the ministries of external affairs and defence, indicating that the government was aware of the intrusions, but was “trying to sort them out.”
The point is that China prefers to keep the LAC un-demarcated to be able harass India from time to time. Unless India put her foot down, like in 1986, the situation will continue to remain unhealthy.
The author is a French-born writer and journalist
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