Originally published as part of a debate at, ‘The China-India Border Issue in 2013: Point and Counter-Point’, Associate Paper, Future Directions International, 28 May 2013.
If there is just one lesson to be drawn from the recent stand-off between China and India, it is that the two sides have a long way to go to in establishing mutual trust. While the Ladakh incident was eventually resolved by a combination of military-to-military meetings and diplomatic interactions, three aspects stand out.
One, the Chinese incursion was of a qualitatively different nature from previous such incidents. Hitherto, such ‘incursions’ meant soldiers marking their presence in their claim areas by frequent patrols, painting on rocks, littering and so on. The recent escalation and the intruders’ willingness to stay put for a considerable length of time, despite the difficulties of terrain and logistics, very likely marks the beginning of a new trend along the LAC. It also puts pressure on existing bilateral mechanisms of diplomatic and military contact and procedure. There are several formal mechanisms for inter-military and inter-government interactions, including clear stipulations laid out by treaty, about the nature of military presence in the border areas and the kind of responses that the two sides are to employ if they run into each other in disputed territory. This time, however, there was clearly a degree of unwillingness to compromise or to follow those formal mechanisms and obligations. Indeed, it is possible that this has been the case for some time now.