Growing number of China incursions into India lead to a strategy change
Along the disputed border near Ladakh, India has long neglected infrastructure to discourage a Chinese invasion. But the strategic landscape is shifting.
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Leh, the capital of Ladakh, is burgeoning with new development and tourism – a trend stoked partly by patriotism. "It should grow quite fast and quite big. That's the best deterrent for people who create problems at the border," says a developer visiting from Delhi with a construction proposal for the district government.Skip to next paragraph
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The two countries fought a bloody border war in 1962, leaving unresolved issues over the precise border. Since 1981, the two have been in talks to finalize the 2,000-mile sprawling border to no avail. Among the sticking points is China's claim of a piece of Indian-controlled territory three times the size of Taiwan.
Recent media reports of incursions in Ladakh range from the brazen to the bizarre: Chinese soldiers painting "China" on rocks inside Indian territory, Chinese boats surrounding an Indian vessel on a high-altitude border lake, and the dropping of frozen food from the air.
Mr. Mutp, who drove the deputy commissioner of Ladakh to Demchok, said the villagers had not heard of air-dropped food, and mostly seemed to think it was distant city folk who were making a fuss. (The deputy commissioner refused to talk about Chinese incursions and the military restricts access to Demchok and other border areas.)
Even in Leh, residents mostly shrug off the Chinese incursions, speaking about them as if they were a cyclic part of the weather.
Others express some concern about creeping militarization. "There might be more armies transferred to the border to protect [it]," says Rigzin Dhonup, a university student from Ladakh. He says that while the Army is disciplined and well-behaved, more troops would raise tensions and perhaps provoke China or Pakistan into responding.
Leh already houses the entire 14th Corps of the Indian Army, as well as an indigenous force called the Ladakh Scouts. Soldiers are frequently seen walking through the bazaars.
Active and former soldiers and Scouts who have patrolled the Chinese border describe it as mostly a relaxed affair, with handwaves exchanged at times across the river. However, the Hindustan Times newspaper reports that along the border at Pangong Lake, Indian soldiers who used to patrol unarmed now carry weapons.
A colonel currently serving in the 14th Corps, who says he is not authorized to speak, describes regular monthly meetings involving the exchange of gifts and discussions between the two patrolling forces on parts of the border.
The recent activity from the Chinese he says is "normal" and "it's just to keep busy." When asked which country – Pakistan or China – is more threatening to India, he says "both are equally."
Over time, however, that view has been shifting. Chellaney agrees with India's former Air Force chief Fali Homi, who says China is now the greater threat. Chellaney points out that China has delivered military assistance to Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Burma, and Nepal.
"The idea is to constrain India's strategic options," Chellaney says. "The idea is not to actually use force but to create a situation where India stays on good behavior."
Could emerging competition between India and China lead to conflict?