After trading charges for weeks, both Peking and New Delhi appear to be backing off from a public posture of confrontation over border issues. Amid reports of a massive troop buildup along their disputed Himalayan frontier, India is sending its foreign minister to China for talks this weekend.
In the last several weeks, both countries have accused each other of border incursions, air space violations, and large-scale military maneuvers. The situation along the frontier has been described by independent analysts as the most volatile since 1967, when Chinese and Indian forces clashed briefly in the Sikkim region.
However, neither side seems to want a full-scale war. The buildup seems to have resulted from a one-year spiral of actions and counteractions that include small frontier intrusions, military exercises, and rhetoric.
According to Western intelligence reports, China has poured a large quantity of arms and more than 20,000 additional troops into the border region since last month. The weapons include 105-mm artillery guns, rockets, and jets. India, which has more than 300,000 soldiers along its China border, has strengthened those forces and deployed Soviet-made Migs and French-made Mirage jets at air bases, Indian and Western analysts say.
The unusual level of military activity, mainly in the 700-mile sparsely populated border between Bhutan and Burma, prompted the United States recently to express ``concern about the possibility of clashes'' and urge the two Asian giants to hold peace talks.
In the past week, Indian and Chinese officials have sought to allay fears of an imminent border war. Though they have not denied the troop buildups, the officials call Western reports on the frontier exaggerated.
At the root of the present tension is a longstanding distrust of each country's intentions. Peking, apparently piqued by India's rejection of its offer for a package settlement of the frontier dispute, suspects that India might be seeking to avenge its defeat in 1962, when the two countries fought a brief but bloody war. The Indians, bitter over China's annexation of the disputed Askai Chin region in 1962, and of Tibet before that, fear China plans to wrest control of more disputed territory.
The debate in India
The border confrontation has renewed debate in India on ways to settle the dispute. Several analysts have suggested that India accept China's annexation of remote Askai Chin - ``where not a blade of grass grows'' - and agree to the present line of control as the boundary.
``China, India's largest neighbor, is a superpower in the making and India's bilateral relations with that country are important in themselves,'' says retired foreign secretary M.K. Rasgotra, advocating a peaceful settlement. But he admits that an early border solution is not possible. The political leadership in both countries is passing through testing times. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, whose domestic popularity has fallen sharply in recent months, has ruled out any territorial concessions.
India and China have held several fruitless negotiations since 1981 to settle the dispute, which centers on the McMahon line drawn up by the British colonial government in 1914 as the Indo-Tibetan border. China has long questioned the legitimacy of the Mcmahon line.
China also claims sovereignty over India's northeast Arunachal Pradesh State. India has rejected China's 1983 offer to give up Peking's claim on Arunachal Pradesh if India accepts China's annexation of Askai Chin.
The confrontation has revived domestic demands to produce nuclear weapons. Army chief Gen. K. Sundarji, an advocate of nuclear arms, feels it would be unfair for the Indian Army to fight a war with China, a known nuclear power. According to retired Gen. S.K. Sinha, ``Our defense policy should aim at developing a credible deterrent both in terms of strike capability and nuclear retaliation. Our pursuit of peace can be successful only when we engage in this endeavor from a position of strength.''