India’s foreign ministry has accused China of moving into disputed territory near the de facto border in the Himalayas, highlighting a potential renewal of frosty border relations between the Asian giants.
“Chinese troops entered 10km into Indian territory on April 15 and pitched tents in the Depsang valley in the Ladakh region of eastern Kashmir," an Indian official said on Tuesday, according to an Al Jazeera article.
China, however, has denied the incursion, saying Indo-Chinese relations are running smoothly as usual and dismissed reports as speculation on the part of the Indian media.
“The development momentum of Chinese-Indian relations is excellent, and the two sides are maintaining good communication and coordination regarding the border question,” said Chinese Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, according to a Financial Times article.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin, however, acknowledged that the situation is a complicated one due to each country’s different understanding of the border.
Known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the border line separating China and India has been a constant source of tension between the two countries since a brief war in 1962 that resulted in a crushing defeat of Indian forces.
Their long common border has since been closed and militarized remaining a sore subject of dispute between the nations.
China claims India’s northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, which in recent years, Chinese commentators have begun to refer to as “Southern Tibet,” much to India’s irritation. India, on the other hand, says China only occupies 38,000 square kilometers of territory in the Himalayas.
According to Brahma Chellaney, professor of Strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, China’s stealthy strategy along the long border is not uncommon.
“Although the Indian government chooses to underplay Chinese actions so as not to provoke greater aggressiveness, its figures reveal that — in keeping with a pattern witnessed since 2007 — the number of stealthy Chinese forays into Indian territory again increased last year,” said Chellaney in a column for Mint. “Given that the Himalayan frontier is vast and inhospitable and thus difficult to effectively patrol in full, Chinese troops repeatedly attempt to sneak in, both to needle India and to possibly push the line of control southward.”
Other sources of tension between the countries also Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama’s presence in India as well as China’s budding alliance with Pakistan, India’s bitter nemesis. China has also remained suspicious of India’s alliance with the United States since the U.S. nuclear deal in 2005.
While trade relations between the countries have allowed them to boom in the global economic arena, it is unclear whether Indo-Chinese relations will soften anytime soon. The failure to clearly demarcate a precise border will prevent any hopes of thawing the relationship between the South Asian neighbors.