Both the Indian and Chinese governments have played down the recent reports of border incursions by Chinese troops in Ladakh, describing them as more media hype than any real cause for alarm.
Reports on Monday said the Chinese troops had crossed the Line of Actual Control, the effective demarcation along the disputed border, in Ladakh, painting rocks red in a seemingly aggressive gesture to mark the disputed area as Chinese territory.
External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said on Monday that the reported incursions “were not an issue” and described the border as “one of the most peaceful.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry echoed a similar view on Tuesday, saying the reports were “groundless and untrue.” “Border patrols are strictly conducted according to the law and will never enter [Indian] territory,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said. “India and China should make joint efforts to safeguard peace and tranquillity along the border.”
But defence analysts in India say the spate of reports suggests a growing dissonance between the civilian and military leaderships in both countries on the long-running dispute. “The civilian leaderships are playing it down, but the militaries seem to be ratcheting up tensions,” says Srikanth Kondapalli, chairman of the Centre for East Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
In China, while President Hu Jintao proposed a hot-line between the two countries in a bid to ease tensions, a newspaper run by the Communist Party, which commands the military, called for a more hawkish India policy. “The Chinese military is taking a hard-line posture, which appears to be disconcerting for the Chinese government,” said Brigadier Arun Sahgal of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi. But doing so could also serve the Chinese government as a “pressure tactic.”
Mr. Kondapalli says there is a similar dissonance in India. A month before the 13th round of border talks began in New Delhi on August 7, Arunachal Pradesh Governor and the former Chief of Army Staff, J.J. Singh, called for sending two more divisions of troops to fortify border areas. “The highest levels of leadership are taking a more moderate view, but the lower rungs and the militaries on either side are not,” Mr. Kondapalli said.
“It is a fact that these transgressions are not new and are coming equally from both sides,” Mr. Kondapalli said. “Indian incursions are more likely in the Arunachal Pradesh area, while Chinese incursions are more in Ladakh, which reflects which sectors the two countries are focussed on. The reports do not come out as much in China, given how closed the military is.”
Ma Jiali, an India scholar at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations in Beijing, cautioned that media reports could “poison” the atmosphere. “It is important that China and India do not increase deployment of armed forces after such reports.”
To downplay the reports in Beijing, India’s new Ambassador S. Jaishankar, in his first interview to the Chinese press , described the Indian media reports as “sensationalist and alarmist.” “Their basic concept is flawed.”