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China’s “Peaceful Rise” Vanishes in Thin Air

With the world's attention focused on the pandemic, Chinese troops have been establishing fixed positions in areas that even it considers to be on the Indian side of the disputed Line of Actual Control. The message is clear: China is now the region's preponderant power, and everyone else should fall in line.

NEW DELHI – COVID-19 isn’t the only threat that has crossed India’s borders this year. According to alarming reports from India’s defense ministry, China has deployed a “significant number” of troops across the disputed Line of Actual Control (LAC) along the countries’ Himalayan frontier. So far, these transgressions have occurred at four points on the world’s longest and most highly disputed border, with thousands of Chinese troops showing up in Sikkim and in parts of the Ladakh region, northeast of the Kashmir Valley.

Neither government disputes the fact that Chinese soldiers have occupied territory that India considers its own. Notwithstanding a brief but bloody war in 1962 that ended with the humiliation of India’s underprepared army, China and India have managed an uneasy but viable modus vivendi on their common border for nearly half a century. No shots have been fired in anger since 1976, and both countries tend to downplay each other’s troop movements, citing “differing perceptions” as to where the LAC – which has never been officially demarcated – actually lies.

Owing to these fraught conditions, an estimated 400 faceoffs occur each year along the LAC, all of which are quickly defused. But this time is different. Chinese troops have reportedly advanced into territories that China itself traditionally considers to be on the Indian side of the divide. And rather than merely patrolling, they have established a fixed presence (with pitched tents, concrete structures, and several miles of road) well beyond China’s own “Claim Line,” occupying the “Finger Heights” near Pangong Tso Lake.

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