China-India Border Incident Highlights Uncertainties in Bilateral Relations

China-India Border Incident Highlights Uncertainties in Bilateral Relations

The full motivation for China's recent incursion into Indian territory along their disputed border in eastern Kashmir is as yet unclear. But the incident brings to the fore the issue of unpredictability in Chinese foreign policy implementation and Beijing's frequent recourse to low-level aggression, often deployed to shape the backdrop to formal diplomatic negotiations. With specific regard to India, despite a general trend toward deepening cooperation, the incident lowers hopes that China's new leadership would move to clear up uncertainty in bilateral relations and create a firmer basis for cultural and economic exchange.

On April 15, in the Depsang Valley in Ladakh, eastern Kashmir, around 30 Chinese soldiers are alleged to have marched 13 miles beyond what India perceives to be the Line of Actual Control (LAC), setting up camp there for nearly three weeks. Some reports indicate that Chinese helicopters also entered Indian airspace. In Beijing, Foreign Ministry officials repeatedly denied that any violation had occurred. Coming at a time of apparent positive momentum in relations between the world's two most populous nations, the move caught most analysts by surprise and initially lacked a clear explanation.

The specific catalyst for the incursion now appears to have been Chinese objections to new infrastructure construction on the Indian side, specifically several roads and bunkers at the Daulat Beg Oldi advanced landing ground and other strategic points close to the LAC. It is not yet clear at what level on the Chinese side the order to cross the LAC was given, although the occurrence of at least three brigadier-level flag meetings in the disputed sector suggests that the impetus possibly came from local commanders.

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