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Eyeball to Eyeball at the Top of the World

NEW DELHI ­– When a foreign minister goes out of his way to assure reporters that there is no tension on his country’s borders with a powerful neighbor, the logical tendency is to wonder whether “the lady doth protest too much.” After all, you don’t hear Canada’s foreign minister denying tension on his country’s American frontier, because the truth of that proposition is self-evident. The claim by Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee on a June visit to Beijing that the Sino-Indian border is tension-free has prompted cynical observers to assume the opposite.

They are right to do so. The last six months have witnessed a proliferation of incidents along the 2,520-mile (4,057-kilometer) Sino-Indian frontier. Nearly a hundred have been recorded, including no fewer than 65 incursions by China’s People’s Liberation Army in just one sector – the evocatively-named Finger Area, a 2.1-square-kilometer salient in the Indian state of Sikkim, which shares a 206-kilometer border with Tibet.

While India seeks to downplay such reports, one incident that did make it into the Indian press occurred inside the “Line of Actual Control” (LAC) on the western sector of the border at Demchok, in India’s Ladakh district. A mixed civilian-military team investigating reports of Chinese incursions were, on May 16, threatened and forced to retreat by a PLA formation in three armored vehicles. The Chinese soldiers allegedly assumed firing positions, leading the Indians to withdraw in order not to provoke a shooting match.

The previous month, there were reports of an armed Chinese probe 12 kilometers into the north-eastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. Intensified Chinese patrolling has been observed at Demchok and Pangong Tso in Ladakh, and in the West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh, a state to which the Chinese Ambassador in New Delhi went so far as to lay claim in a media interview.