If India’s Defence Minister AK Antony thought his visit to China in early July would be sufficient to paper over the long-standing cracks in the Sino-India relationship, he was in for a rude surprise. Just before he arrived in Beijing on July 4, a hawkish PLA General warned India not to “provoke new problems” and “stir up” trouble through its plans to increase deployments along the border.
Major General Luo Yuan, who works at PLA’s Academy of Military Sciences, is known for his outspokenness. Reporting from Beijing, The Hindu quotes him as saying to the All China Journalists’ Association, “There is no denying there are tensions and problems between China and India, particularly in border areas.”
“There is still the problem of 90,000 sq km of territory that is occupied by the Indian side,” the general added, referring to China’s claims on Arunachal Pradesh. “I think these are problems left over from history and we should look at these problems with a cool head. Particularly, the Indian side should not provoke new problems and increase military deployment at the border area, and stir up new trouble.”
Gen Luo’s statement may not reflect the official line at the highest levels of the Chinese government, but the fact that he would openly warn India on the very day Antony landed in China suggests that at least a section of the Chinese establishment maintains an aggressive posture towards India. The PLA in particular is riled by India’s efforts to bolster its military position all along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), as the de facto border between the two countries is known.
While the Chinese political leadership has concentrated on improving bilateral trade with India and looking to engage New Delhi on issues like climate change, PLA hardliners have kept up the pressure on the un-demarcated boundary, indulging in the kind of brinkmanship on display in April this year. On April 15, a platoon of PLA soldiers advanced 19 km into Indian territory in Ladakh and stayed put for three weeks before restoring the status quo.
Intense efforts at both the military and diplomatic levels were needed to resolve that crisis, which once again highlighted the fault lines that exist on the boundary issue. The impasse was resolved because it was in Beijing’s interest to do so, as new Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was scheduled to visit India in early May. As his first overseas trip, Beijing could hardly have afforded to cancel it.
When he came to Delhi, Premier Li waxed eloquent about age-old ties between the two civilizations, and suggested there was enough wisdom on both sides to resolve outstanding issues as he sought to step up engagement on other fronts.
Indeed, on the surface, Sino-India relations do look to be on the upswing: bilateral trade is booming and is expected to touch 100 billion dollars in a couple of years, although India has expressed concern over a huge trade deficit; cultural and people-to-people exchange has risen substantially; New Delhi and Beijing have worked jointly on climate change negotiations. Yet despite the apparent bonhomie, the two countries failed to break the deadlock in what is now the longest border negotiations in the world.