Season Of Transgressions Has Begun

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A Chinese intrusion near in Bum-La could be the first this summer

Chocolates at 15,000 feet in Arunachal Pradesh? Word is Chinese troops offered their Indian counterparts chocolates after a “face off” in Yangtse near Bum-La last month. Is that the mandarin’s way of indicating there will be less incursions into India?

Hard to say because its high summer along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China, the snows are melting heralding the inevitable season of transgressions. One is not certain if the Yangtse incident is the first transgression of the season as it is impossible to man the entire length of the LAC. It is therefore impossible to be sure about the exact number of transgressions over the course of any year.

There is uncertainty over just how many Chinese troops crossed over. Some reports have placed their strength at 250 men because generally, Chinese patrols are of roughly that strength. They are also easily spotted moving towards the Indian claim line as they tend to be located in secured shelters well back from the LAC. The Indian Army is deployed more or less on the LAC, thereby giving it enough time to move into intercept positions and block further ingress.

Senior officers who have served in these areas say such interactions are fairly predictable: The standard territorial claims are made and reiterated, both sides stand their ground, the “banner drill” is gone through, which is basically the display of a set of signboards in Mandarin and English, appealing to the other side to go back, and underscoring friendship.

There are times when “push comes to shove”, as videos telecast on a private television channel have shown. But no shots have been exchanged in all these years and after a while, calm returns.

It’s not the ideal situation. If China’s high jinks on the South China Sea is any indication, there’s no reason why India will be let off. And currently, both countries are head to head over Beijing’s refusal to allow Delhi into the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Is that the reason for transgressions? Clearly no. Transgressions are a means for China to reiterate its claims to territory which India sees as its own. It’s at the core of their border dispute and they went to war over it more than 50 years ago. But diplomatic hostilities can and do get reflected on the ground. Two years ago, during President Xi Jinping’s visit to India, a Chinese army patrol set up camp in a desolate stretch of the Ladakh desert and refused to budge. If the Chinese could do this at a time when their president was in India, it is indicative of how deeply Beijing views its national interest.

It’s also a mind game. Such incidents give the impression China has the upper hand, India is on the defensive, continually reacting to Chinese moves and countermoves. And since Chinese transgressions are widely reported and debated in India, the sense of China’s power is evident in the media.

Not that India is some goody two-shoes always playing by the book. Nobody will admit this, but Indian troops do go across into Chinese territory, plant the flag, generally mark their presence with cigarette packets bearing Indian markings before departing. These never get reported in the controlled Chinese media and one is given to understand it’s all about prestige: The Chinese military would not want their people to know that India walks through their territory.

So two can play the same game not that it gets either side any closer to resolving the border dispute. China is in no hurry. It’s military infrastructure in Tibet is complete and continues to expand; its forces are larger; the mandarins believe they have the physical and psychological edge over India.

India will admit China’s superior military strength at least in numbers, and infrastructure on our side is still in the making. But China has not fought a war since 1979, when its ill-conceived operation to teach little Vietnam a lesson ended with a bloody nose for the mandarins. Comparatively the Indian army has had little respite, whether taking on Pakistan in the battlefield or its terrorist surrogates.

So both sides have their relative strengths and India certainly doesn’t want war. Nor for that matter does China, but there’s little doubt a section in the military establishment there would love to repeat ’62. In the interim, transgressions will probably do.

China has not fought a war since 1979, when its ill-conceived operation to teach little Vietnam a lesson ended with a bloody nose for the mandarins

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