As border conflicts go,the current standoff at the Depsang valley in Ladakh appears to be ridiculously small. A small detachment of 30 Chinese soldiers camped on what India considers its territory. A far cry from Kargil or even the heady days in the 80’s when the Siachen glacier was at stake. However,the reason for the standoff being taken with great seriousness is the fact that the last time it happened between India and China nearly three decades ago things took a dangerous escalatory mode.
The fact that the geopolitical situation has changed and both nations are currently focused on rapid economic growth,there are compelling reasons for a quick resolution to the standoff before it deteriorates into a tit for tat. Unlike the disputed border with Pakistan,India
and China are not deployed in eyeball-eyeball border camps to assert authority over territory. Instead,military camps of both sides are well into their own territories and troops ‘stake claim’ on the disputed areas by continuous patrols,avoiding any direct contact with the other side. This arrangement has held good for over four decades without any aggression on the border.
The closed things came to a confrontation was in 1986 in a eerily similar fashion a small detachment of Chinese soldiers set up camp in the Sumdorong Chu Valley in the North East. What started as a small incident rapidly deteriorated after India lodged a strong diplomatic
protest and sent in troops to secure the area.
What followed was extensive deployment by the Chinese who increased their force level there to more than a company strength,leading to a spiraling reaction from India. Old timers recall that at the tactical level,Indian deployments were increased rapidly to cover off any ‘progress routes’ for the Chinese and the only path left unoccupied led back to what India considered was Chinese territory.
While the stand off ended with the Chinese troops moving on from the area without setting up a permanent camp,the gravity of the situation was not lost on anyone. Hence the reason for the current stand off being handled in a more diplomatic fashion without a scale up on the
ground by India. It is yet unclear if the standoff is a strategy or a one off tactical aberration. A quick resolution to the issue will make it clear that it was only the latter.