The face-off between Indian and Chinese troops in Depsang valley in Ladakh has taken a serious turn. Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai summoned the Chinese ambassador to South Block last week to lodge an official protest against the forward deployment.
Sources said Mathai made it clear to Ambassador Wei Wei that such posturing was unhelpful in building the right atmosphere before Chinese Premier Li Keqiangs visit,likely on May 20. Li is slated to go to Pakistan from India.
Wei was told that India wanted the issue to be resolved soon,which meant that the Chinese troops must pull back from their current camping position.
However,in todays routine media interaction,the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson asserted that Chinas forces had not crossed the Line of Actual Control. Chinas frontier troops are seriously abiding by the agreement between both countries as well as the Line of Actual Control. Our troops are patrolling the Chinese side of the LAC and have never trespassed that line, the spokesperson said.
This,sources said,echoed the line the Chinese took at the April 18 flag meeting at the local military commanders level. India then activated the joint mechanism to deal with such issues on the boundary. However,the Chinese counterpart of the MEA joint secretary leading this mechanism is learnt to have conveyed that Beijing was unaware of any such incident.
The Indian side suggested that Beijing should bring clarity to the issue at the earliest,and the matter be resolved through another flag meeting. Sources said India also asked for a second flag meeting,only to be told locally that it was not possible because the local Chinese commander had gone to his headquarters for consultation. New Delhi was on Monday hoping that the commander would return with instructions to de-escalate the situation.
Given the contesting perceptions of where the LAC is in these areas,it is common for both sides to send patrols close to their respective claim lines. The patrols roam the area and return; this is the first time in several years that a patrol party of about 30 persons has pitched tents in the disputed area.
The Indian side has calculated that the patrol is 10 km inside Indias claim line. Sources said that even going by the Indian perception of what is Chinas claim line,the platoon is camped about 2 km inside Indian territory. Indian troops too have moved closer,and are currently deployed directly across the Chinese.
While the diplomatic effort continues,sources said internal inquiries are also under way to ascertain if the Chinese deployment was a misunderstood reaction to any action on the Indian side even though the Chinese have made no such claim.
A face-off of this kind last occurred in 1986 in the Sumdorong Chu Valley in the Eastern Sector,when about 40 Chinese troops intruded into the Indian side,provoking a strong diplomatic protest from New Delhi. At that time too,Beijing claimed that its troops were patrolling in Chinese territory and sent in reinforcements,taking their number up to about 200.
India responded with a major counter deployment effort that saw Indian troops occupying key hill features surrounding the Valley. This was done alongside a diplomatic effort,which eventually led to a foreign ministers visit to China,and the eventual withdrawal of troops.
It was after this incident that work began on bolstering confidence building measures along the boundary,which were finally cemented through a bilateral agreement during the 1988 visit of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi to China.
The Indian side is hopeful that this incident will not prove to be that dramatic,even though the Chinese platoon has now been positioned in the area for a week.