SCMP: “It’s more than 5,000 metres above sea level, cold, inhospitable, uninhabited, with hardly any vegetation or wildlife in sight. Welcome to the icy desert wastelands of Daulat Beg Oldi, a forgotten pit stop on the Silk Road catapulted to overnight geopolitical fame as two nuclear neighbours vie for its possession in a dangerous game of tactical brinkmanship.
For two weeks now, Chinese and Indian soldiers have been standing eyeball to eyeball, barely 100 metres apart, at this easternmost point of the Karakoram Range on the western sector of the China-India border.
Both sides claim the land as their own in an unusually public show of mutual defiance that threatens to unhinge some of their newfound comity in an otherwise fraught relationship, and cast a shadow on Premier Li Keqiang‘s visit to India next month.
The trouble began when Indian media started reporting a “deep incursion” on April 15 in which a platoon of about 30 Chinese soldiers entered the Daulat Beg Oldi area in the Depsang Valley of eastern Ladakh in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Shrill media reports of Chinese incursions are not uncommon in India, where Sinophobia has been wired deep into the national psyche since a drubbing by China in a border war in 1962. Every time such reports appear, New Delhi’s stock response is that it’s a misunderstanding caused by “perceptual differences”. This time is no different.
A group of activists protest on Saturday against an alleged incursion two weeks ago by about 30 Chinese troops in the Daulat Beg Oldi area in eastern Ladakh of Indian-administered Kashmir. Photo: AP
India and China do not have a real border marked out on the ground as they never got around to negotiating one. What they follow is an undemarcated Line of Actual Control (LAC), but each side has its own perception of where that line actually lies. As a result, it is not uncommon for patrols to stray into each other’s territory. Years of painstaking talks have gone into creating an elaborate mechanism to prevent such transgressions from snowballing, keeping the peace for 25 years.
What is different this time is that none of the standard operating procedures that comprise this peace mechanism seem to be working. These procedures include waving banners to alert the other patrol if it is on the wrong side of the LAC, and meetings between local commanders. This time, two flag meetings have been held but the stalemate continues. New Delhi insists Chinese troops have entered 18 kilometres into Indian territory and must leave. Beijing maintains its soldiers are on the Chinese side of the LAC and won’t budge. And, in an alarming show of strength, both sides have dug in, pitching tents to strengthen their claims.
The confrontation has sent diplomats into overdrive to calm tempers before Li’s India visit as both sides have set much store by the trip. Bilateral trade, barely about US$3 billion in 2000 following decades of shutting each other out after the war, has now reached nearly US$80 billion, making China India’s largest trading partner. The aim is to reach US$100 billion by 2015, with both sides looking for greater access to each other’s markets. They are also increasingly working together in other areas, ranging from environment to energy security.
“Sino-Indian relations are developing very quickly. Li’s visit will be his first foreign trip after taking office, and is in a complete break with protocol, showing the importance China attaches to relations with India,” says Ma Jiali, an India expert at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations in Beijing.
Li’s choice of India as his first port of call had created a burst of goodwill in India for its symbolism. Going by protocol, it was Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh‘s turn to visit Beijing this year to reciprocate for former premier Wen Jiabao‘s tour in 2011.”
via Experts baffled by China-India border stand-off amid improving ties | South China Morning Post.