Ladakh Will Dominate Li-PM Talks
Ladakh Will Dominate Li-PM Talks
24 April 2013
Times of India
: India is weighing stronger counter-measures against Chinese troops who have pitched tents in Depsang valley in Ladakh. While the government is divided on whether to actually show muscle, it is clear this issue will overshadow the first visit to India by new Chinese premier Li Keqiang on May 20. Caught off-guard by China's latest provocation, India now believes that China's decision to set up camp in Ladakh could be a way to compel New Delhi to negotiate and sign a border defence cooperation agreement. India has been wary of signing any such pact with China. Many in the Indian security establishment believe such an agreement could allow China unprecedented insights into the Indian defence system, which New Delhi is not yet ready for. Besides, Indian officials worry that signing such an agreement could signal that it is veering towards a Chinese sphere of influence. On the ground, India believes the agreement would not prevent border intrusions. The pact was proposed by the Chinese during a secretary-level meeting in March. India and China have signed several agreements in the past 20 years intended to keep a 'peaceful and tranquil' border. None of them have stopped the Chinese intrusions into Indian territory and it believes the new one will not either. With negotiations on to resolve the current impasse, sources said, the defence cooperation pact could be used as cover to move Chinese troops back before a high-level visit by Li. But this might have adverse consequences for both countries, because it could raise popular suspicion in India about Chinese intentions. India has been caught off-guard by the Chinese - aggressive patrolling is now routine for both sides, but the Chinese action of pitching tents was deemed provocative. That, said sources, was the reason for India's sharp response, demanding that Chinese troops revert to their previous positions. 'If this issue is not resolved, there will be political costs for China,' said senior officials. This is not what the government had in mind when, soon after the meeting in Durban between Manmohan Singh and Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the BRICS summit, the Indian government was surprised by an initiative from the Chinese side proposing New Delhi as the first destination for Li Keqiang. The Chinese Premier will visit India, Pakistan and Germany. In fact, after officially taking over, Li's first telephonic conversations were with Singh and German chancellor Angela Merkel. So the Indian establishment is hoping that the visit would see an uptick in bilateral ties, which are frequently strained. The PMO was keen to flag Li's visit as a success story for the UPA government and therefore, there is an effort to show the incident as being little more than routine. That was before the Chinese set up camp in Ladakh, evoking memories of Kargil. The MEA and PMO's carefully scripted moves are likely to come undone by a political and popular clamour to take stronger action against repeated Chinese intrusions. That is driving government to consider measures like cancelling visits by Chinese delegations, or some show of force locally that stops short of exchange of fire. The struggle is to insulate this incident from the larger bilateral ties, but that may not be possible.