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Sunday, May 24, 2020

Explained: What does the increase in Chinese transgressions mean?

The fact that Indian and Chinese soldiers are in an eyeball to eyeball situation at two places in Ladakh, with strong statements coming from both sides, can’t be construed as a very happy situation.

Written by Sushant Singh , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: May 23, 2020 7:05:48 am
Explained: What does the increase in Chinese transgressions mean? Soldiers near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) at Chushul, 59 kilometres from Pangong lake in Leh. (Express Photo: Shuaib Masoodi, File)

As tensions remain high between Indian and Chinese soldiers, the number of recorded Chinese transgressions across the disputed India-China border surged by 75 per cent in Ladakh in 2019, and the Chinese forays into Indian territory in the first four months of the current year have also witnessed an increase compared to the same period last year.

What exactly is a Chinese transgression?

A Chinese transgression across the border is recorded once the Indian border guarding forces in an area – either the Army or the ITBP – are “reasonably certain” that the Chinese soldiers had crossed over to the Indian side of the LAC. A Chinese transgression – in air, land or the waters of Pangong Tso lake – can be recorded, officials said, if it is visually observed by border posts, through use of surveillance equipment, in face-offs by patrols, indicated reliably by locals, or based on evidence left by the Chinese in the form of wrappers, biscuit packets etc to show their presence in an unmanned area.

Chinese transgressions, aerial transgressions

What does the ‘Indian side’ of the LAC mean?

The border is not fully demarcated and the LAC is neither clarified nor confirmed by the two countries. Except for the middle sector, even the mutual exchange of maps about their respective perceptions has not taken place between India and China. This has led to different perceptions of the LAC for the two sides, and soldiers from either side try to patrol the area up to their perception of the LAC. Essentially, what Indians believe to be ‘their side’ is not the same as what the Chinese believe to be ‘their side’ – this is different from the Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan where everything was agreed upon by the two armies following the 1971 War.

What are the various sectors on the India-China border?

India-China border is divided into three sectors, where the LAC in the western sector falls in the union territory of Ladakh and is 1597 km long, the middle sector of 545 km length falls in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, and 1346 km long eastern sector falls in the states of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. The middle sector is the least disputed sector, while the western sector witnesses the highest transgressions between the two sides.

Also read | India builds road north of Ladakh lake, China warns of ‘necessary counter-measures’

Do the higher number of Chinese transgressions matter?

A higher number indicates that the Chinese soldiers are coming to the Indian side more often, and their movements are being observed and recorded by the Indian soldiers. This can be seen as an indicator of increased Chinese assertiveness, but as long as there are no major incidents, it means that the established border mechanisms between the two sides are working. So far, there has been no major standoff between the two sides after the 73-day Doklam standoff on Sikkim-Bhutan border in 2017.

But PM Modi and President Xi met in Wuhan, following the Doklam crisis, and passed some instructions. What were they?

Yes, Modi and Xi had met for their first informal summit at Wuhan in April 2018, where the two leaders had “issued strategic guidance to their respective militaries to strengthen communication in order to build trust and mutual understanding and enhance predictability and effectiveness in the management of border affairs”. They had also “directed their militaries to earnestly implement various confidence building measures agreed upon between the two sides, including the principle of mutual and equal security, and strengthen existing institutional arrangements and information sharing mechanisms to prevent incidents in border regions”.

Also read | China engaged in provocative, coercive military activities with neighbours, including India: White House report

Has the Wuhan spirit vanished?

That is hard to say but tensions between India and China have shot up suddenly in 2020, even as both countries grapple with containing the spread of COVID-19. A terse statement by the Chinese foreign ministry on Tuesday was responded to by the Indian foreign ministry in equally strong terms on Thursday. Besides tensions at Naku La in Sikkim and at Galwan river and Pangong Tso in Ladakh, Indians have been worried about the Nepal government’s recent behaviour on the border map issue. Army Chief General MM Naravane didn’t leave much to imagination when he said that Nepal was doing it at “the behest of a third party,” ostensibly referring to China.

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Should one be worried?

India and China are both nuclear-armed countries with strong militaries. Although not a shot between them has been fired since 1976 or a military skirmish happened after 1967, the fact that Indian and Chinese soldiers are in an eyeball to eyeball situation at two places in Ladakh, with strong statements coming from both sides, can’t be construed as a very happy situation. Because matters on the border have always been resolved peacefully by the two countries in the past four decades, there is hope that the tensions will soon subside.

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