Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Incursion or Fair Play? Chinese, Indian Troops Face off along Disputed Border

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Incursion or Fair Play? Chinese, Indian Troops Face off along Disputed Border

Article excerpt

As Chinese and Indian troops face off again on a remote and barren Himalayan mountainside where the two sides fought a war 50 years ago, their governments are trying hard to play down the territorial dispute and prevent it from flaring into violence.

"It is a limited, localized incident in geography and scope," insisted Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Syed Akbarudin in Delhi on Thursday.

"China and India are wise and capable enough to handle the existing differences ... while boosting friendly cooperation," Mr. Akbarudin's Chinese counterpart, Hua Chunying, said in Beijing.

But the standoff in disputed territory, now entering its third week, is threatening to derail preparations for a visit to Delhi later this month by new Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. His choice of India for his first foreign trip had seemed to signal a fresh turn in relations between the neighboring rivals.

Two weeks ago, a platoon of Chinese People's Liberation Army soldiers pitched tents in an area near the Tibetan border over which China and India both claim sovereignty. India complained about what it called an incursion into its territory, and sent soldiers who then pitched their own tents less than 100 yards from the Chinese encampment.

Three rounds of "flag talks" - parleys between local military commanders - and diplomatic negotiations between Beijing and Delhi have so far failed to resolve the dispute. The Chinese unit, far from withdrawing, has been reinforced and resupplied, according to Indian officials.

'Problems inevitably arise'

China does not dispute the location of its soldiers, but claims they are in Chinese territory. "Chinese patrol troops have never crossed the line," insisted Ms. Hua last week, but added that since the border had never been officially demarcated "problems inevitably arise one way or another."

Since a brief border war in 1962, China and India have been separated by a "Line of Actual Control," but where it runs is a matter of dispute. In northern Ladakh, extraordinarily harsh and high altitude desert country, a 12- to 15-mile-wide strip of no- man's land claimed by both sides lies between the two countries' differing versions of the Line of Actual Control. It is there that the current incident is playing out.

Neither country's army is technically supposed to send patrols into this territory, but both acknowledge that they do so. Under a 2005 agreement, however, patrols that come across each other are meant to ignore each other so as to "avoid any unfriendly complications," says Binod Singh, an Indian academic who teaches at Peking University's South Asian Studies Center.

The Indians, accustomed to keeping an eye on passing Chinese patrols, were surprised when the PLA troops began to set up a camp on April 15, says Dr. Singh. Diplomatic overtures, flag talks, and a hurried visit to the site of the dispute by the Indian Army chief of staff then followed, but have failed to resolve the situation. …

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