Monday, August 24, 2009

Chinese intrusions into Sikkim yet again on the rise

While the India-China border talks are going on at the top level, PLA intrusions into Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has been on the rise. What is the message that China is trying to signal to India?

NDTV 24x7 reported in its 8'o clock news broadcast reported fresh Chinese intrusions in all the three sectors -- Sikkim, Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh. There were reportedly six incursions into the Finger Area (Sikkim) in the last two months as compared to six incursions in total in 2008.

Does China want to see a peaceful Asia in the future? There have been increasing concerns of a militarily strong China growing and what its impacts would be. Will it lead to a period of stability or one with destabilising consequences for the region? Rise of new powers have altered the security milieu historically. However, if the rising power indicates that its intentions are peaceful and defensive, essentially through its defence/military postures, this could reduce the suspicion and thereby help create a peaceful region. If the region has to march towards peace and stability, it may be worth the effort to see how China can be brought into the camp through CBMs, particularly in the military-security arena.

In May 2008, China had begun to make fresh claims on Sikkim, otherwise a peaceful sector on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that divides India and China. Sikkim is a state in the north-eastern part of India, bordering China, which acceded to India in 1975. China lays claims to the northernmost tip of Sikkim that appears on the map like a protruding finger and thus termed Finger Area. It contains some stone cairns or heaps of stones that demarcate the India-China border. However, China has continued to state that it will demolish those cairns as the current mapping is not entirely correct and is based on the 1924 Survey of India. The current border controversy started last year when PLA (Peoples Liberation Army) troops began frequenting the area and constructed a road that crossed the Finger Area. Although India protested such moves in February 2008, the Chinese have continued assert their claims and have succeeded in introducing the issue as an agenda in the boundary talks between the two countries. It should be noted that the recent Chinese assertions on Sikkim along with the 2008 claims form part of its larger objective of claiming the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh. Thus, it is only a symptom of the larger Chinese disease of territorial expansion.

China has been trying to activate the Sikkim card as a bargain for its larger claim on the state of Arunachal Pradesh, and more particularly Tawang. China has been trying to adopt various measures to put pressure on India so as to get major leverage from India on the boundary issue. For instance, the Chinese border incursions have been on an increase. There were nearly 200 border intrusions in all three sectors in 2007, although most of the intrusions have taken place in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh. Border incursions into all sectors, including Sikkim have recently gone up significantly. While the numbers may not critical, it still demonstrates changed Chinese attitude towards India. The Chinese incursions are also getting deeper into Indian territory than before. Despite India’s stationing of more than 40,000 troops in the state of Sikkim, its policy and posturing have continued to be, by and large, defensive.

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