Beijing seeks to play down tensions

India and China sought to play down the incident of a less-than-platoon-strength of 40 Chinese troops camping 10 km inside the Indian territory for a week while New Delhi pulled diplomatic strings to get Beijing to revert to status quo prior to this incursion.

India has sent an equal complement of the Indian Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel. They are camping 200 yards away from the Chinese in a classic face-to-face posture. But the Army has not moved into forward positions, according to reports that last came in.

A reluctant Chinese side agreed on Tuesday to an Indian request for a second flag meeting in a week. But having told ITBP personnel repeatedly on Monday to “go back and don’t come back,” officers on the ground saw little possibility of the situation being resolved by local commanders and pointed out that the initial assessment after the flag meeting offer was made was that the Chinese might refuse it.

In New Delhi, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin basically made three points, besides calling on the Chinese to revert to status quo. He admitted it was now a face-to-face situation, but localised; this was not the first time such an incident has happened and; the accent was on resolving the stand-off peacefully through mechanisms agreed upon by the two sides.

In Beijing, Mr. Akbaruddin’s counterpart, Hua Chunying, sought to play down the tensions amid a shift in tone compared to the previous day when she had strongly rejected Indian claims of an incursion as “speculation” and stressed that the Chinese troops were on “their side of the border.’’

On Tuesday, she declined to comment on the on-ground situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and instead emphasised the good momentum in India-China ties and sound interactions and cooperation on the border issue. “The two sides should work together to properly solve this issue left over from history through peaceful negotiations, so as to create good conditions for sound development of bilateral relations,’’ she said.

Her comments on Monday surprised officials in New Delhi, who sought to down-play the row — and leave room for a compromise – by suggesting that differing perceptions of the LAC may have led to the problem. This was a formulation Mr. Akbaruddin repeated on Tuesday as well.

On the ground though, there was no progress despite last week’s consultations between Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai and Chinese Ambassador, a telephonic talk between the two principals of a recently created joint mechanism on border issues and two flag meetings between the Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army.

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid as well as Mr. Akbaruddin drew attention to India’s desire to settle the issue through existing systems and channels.

According to reliable sources, Chinese troops entered the sector eight days ago and settled down next to abandoned huts and bunkers at Burthe, not very far from the Partappur army base at the foot of Siachen Glacier and the Daulat Beg Oldi air field. These facilities were used for a couple of years after the 1962 war when the area was overrun by Chinese troops.