India and China’s armies had two “localised” confrontations on the 3,488-km disputed border recently. On May 5 at a disputed area near the Pangong Tso lake in eastern Ladakh, and on May 9 at the Nakula area of north Sikkim.
In the earlier incident, a fight broke out in which at least two senior Indian Army officers were among dozens injured when Chinese soldiers resorted to rods and bats, inviting Indian retaliation.
The other incident involved fisticuffs in the presence of nearly 150 soldiers. A few days before the Ladakh confrontation, an Indian Army helicopter with a senior officer came across two Chinese military helicopters. Later, two Sukhoi Indian aircraft visited the Line of Actual Control (LAC) though within Indian airspace.
These were not the first incidents of their kind. In August 2017 in Ladakh, soldiers from both sides threw stones at the other. In April 2018, India and China were in a 10-week standoff at the Doklam trijunction between India, Bhutan and China; Beijing looked like it wanted to alter its boundary with Thimphu.
These are the latest in a series of face-offs in unhabited-yet-disputed parcels of real estate that are demarcated differently in Indian and Chinese maps. They won’t be the last. China’s strategy is to keep the border unsettled. To demonstrate that we aren’t unsettled, India sent in the Sukhois.
The confrontations on our eastern front are more civilised than those on the western front, which involve heavy artillery and occasionally a beheading or two. Not a bullet was fired in the past 50 years at the LAC. What we witnessed recently then was a polite show of strength by China.
It was Beijing’s signal to us, to the neighbourhood, and to the world at large. This is the hard reality of our bilateral relationship.