There was a marked increase in the number of Chinese transgressions into the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the year the Indian and Chinese armies were involved in a 73-day faceoff at Doklam on the Sikkim-Bhutan border. The number of faceoffs on the LAC also shot up by 48 per cent last year.
According to official data accessed by The Indian Express, there were 415 transgressions by Chinese soldiers into the Indian side of the LAC in 2017 — as against 271 transgressions in 2016.
The number of faceoffs — when military patrols of the two countries come face-to-face in territory claimed by both countries — also shot up to 216 in 2017 from 146 in 2016.
There are 23 major areas of dispute on the LAC identified by the Indian side, where most Chinese transgressions take place and faceoffs occur. These include Demchok, Chumar, Pangong Tso and Spanggur Gap in Ladakh, Kaurik in Himachal Pradesh, Barahoti in Uttarakhand, and Namkha Chu, Sumdorong Chu, Asaphila and Dibang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh.
Ashok Kantha, who retired as Indian ambassador to China in 2016 and handled border negotiations in various capacities over the past three decades, told The Indian Express: “The number of transgressions itself is not significant. We need the disaggregated data to understand the pattern of transgressions: are these happening in the usual disputed areas or are they new areas, are the Chinese coming deeper. Only then can we understand the significance of this rise in the number of transgressions.”
A top military officer, who has dealt with the China border in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh, concurred: “The LAC is disputed, it is based on perception and every Chinese movement across our perception of the LAC is a transgression. It can be in water every time a Chinese patrol boat crosses a certain portion in Pangong Tso, or on the ground in contentious areas such as Chumar or Dibang Valley. It is clear from these numbers that the Chinese are coming more often.”
Lt General (retd) Vinod Bhatia, former Director General Military Operations, said: “If these numbers are correct, it means that China has definitely increased its patrols on the LAC. The number of transgressions can increase, and peace and tranquility and status quo will be under greater stress in future.”
According to the top military officer, “whenever a transgression is observed and confronted by us, it results in a faceoff. It is a good sign that we are now able to react quickly. Ideally, we should be able to give them a faceoff in 80 per cent of the cases. the figure for 2017 is 52 per cent. A break-up of the data will show that the number of faceoffs vis-à-vis the number of intrusions is lesser in Arunachal. That is because of poor infrastructure on the ground, which needs urgent attention.”
“The number of faceoffs are a part of transgressions,” Lt General Bhatia said, “and it shows that we have now more patrolling capacity on the ground. But we need to build more capacities for the future, be it giving the Army the operational control of ITBP, completing the long-pending 73 India-China border roads and providing better surveillance systems on the LAC. But we should confine ourselves to agreements and Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) signed with China. There should be no blinking on the ground but there should be no brinkmanship.”
Kantha said the increase in faceoffs “is indicative of more intensive assertion by both sides but these are temporary faceoffs which don’t result in prolonged standoffs. The two patrols come face-to-face and return to respective parts, which means that CBMs between the two sides are working.”
Official data also shows that there have been 26 flag meetings, a part of the CBM, between India and China since June 2016. Flag meetings are border meetings between Brigadier-rank officers of the two armies at five designated points on the LAC.