The Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s incursions into the Depsang plains in eastern Ladakh in April have brought the boundary issue back into focus in India’s relations with China. This brief summarises what is happening, analyse why and suggest what India could do about it.
In all likelihood, there will be an eventual peaceful resolution of the crisis, even if it takes some time. As the winters set in across Ladakh later this year, China’s tented outpost will have to withdraw. If the PLA replaces tents with permanent shelters before the onset of winter, it will signal a permanent deployment in an all-weather post. That consolidation will change the nature of the crisis and push India’s hand militarily.
That India doesn’t officially know the Chinese version of the LAC lies at the heart of this incursion. India must devote more energies to formalise the LAC at the earliest. India must ensure that China and India exchange maps duly marked with their respective versions of the LAC.
With a new Chinese political leadership in place, India’s reaction to the Depsang incursion will set course for the next decade. New Delhi cannot turn a blind eye towards PLA’s moves to keep it off-balance tactically; and the long-term signals about national resolve, political will and military capability that Indian moves will send. This will set a precedent for the future which India has to guard against.