New Delhi, Oct. 5: Indian Army chief Gen. V.K. Singh today confirmed that nearly 4,000 Chinese troops, mostly engineers, were present in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
But non-military government sources said hawkish media reports of antagonism between New Delhi and Beijing were undermining diplomatic efforts.
Gen. Singh was answering questions from journalists after a speech by national security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon at an annual lecture in memory of Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa, the first chief of the Indian Army.
“There are certain construction troops in PoK, about 3,000 to 4,000. Like our engineers, they are also combatants. And there are certain people for their security. In some way, they are part of the PLA (the Chinese People’s Liberation Army).”
The context in which Gen. Singh was speaking was based on reports from Ladakh that Chinese troops with helicopters had “intruded” into Indian territory in July. Both military and government leaders have been saying that the “intrusions” are a consequence of the “misperception” of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), meaning that the Sino-Indian boundary is not defined and, therefore, troops patrol up to their idea of the border.
Sources said that at times, even Indian troops ventured into what the Chinese claim to be their territory.
But in May this year, the chief of the Northern Command, Lt Gen. K.T. Parnaik, said in Srinagar: “The army has been officially informed about the presence of Chinese (military) engineers and workers in force near the Line of Control.”
But government sources said that hawkish media reports of China being aggressive on Indian borders often threatened to bury the gains made through diplomatic engagement.
“The 3,500km long India-China border is the most tranquil of all our borders. Not a single bullet has been fired in the last 30 years across the LAC. This is a great feat that both countries have achieved despite our differences,” said a highly placed source.
The external affairs ministry is currently working on a “joint mechanism” to monitor border intrusions.
Defence minister A.K. Antony said last week that the “mechanism” would comprise representatives of all agencies, including the military, but would be headed by a diplomat.
The agreement to be finalised by this year-end will directly link a diplomat each in New Delhi and Beijing to discuss any border transgressions or intrusions by either side.
Key South Block functionaries believe such a mechanism headed by a diplomat, not a defence officer, will prevent alarmist reports on the “so-called intrusions” and reduce “misunderstandings” between Beijing and New Delhi.
India and China already have a mechanism of meetings of “special representatives” to solve their boundary dispute. The special representatives have held 14 rounds of consultations. The next round is scheduled for later this year.
The India-China boundary is divided into four sectors — 1,600km long western sector, 550km middle sector, 200km Sikkim sector and 1,100km eastern sector. Large portions of this LAC are not delineated.
Sources accused western media of projecting a confrontationist India-China relationship. “The truth is we have some divergences but our enormous convergences outweigh these differences,” said one source.
The sources cited the so-called confrontation between INS Airavat and a Chinese naval ship off the coast of Vietnam in July as an example of how western media outlets were busy painting a strained India-China relationship.
“There was no confrontation. But the western media projected it as such, despite facts to the contrary,” said the source, cautioning against demonising China.
“Let us not create a demon where none exists. At times these can be self-fulfilling prophecies,” said the source.
The sources denied reports of Beijing having recently served New Delhi a demarche asking Indian oil companies not to carry out oil exploration in South China Sea in joint ventures with Vietnam.
“No demarche was issued. China has no objection to Indian companies drilling for oil outside Chinese territorial jurisdiction,” said the source.
The sources said an increasingly assertive China was a fact of life that New Delhi needed to deal with cleverly. “It does not serve India’s interest to have an antagonistic relationship with China. We need to have a co-operative relationship with a rising China. Needlessly needling China will be counter-productive,” said the source, citing the increasing bilateral trade between the countries and huge Chinese investments in Indian infrastructure development as areas of convergence.
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