New border meeting venue: China extends an olive branch to India in Ladakh, but will it last?

A major event of strategic importance took place on 1 August in Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) in Chushul sector of eastern Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir when one of the highest airstrips in the world at an altitude of 16,000 feet became the venue for a border personnel meeting between Indian and Chinese military commanders.

Incidentally, DBO was the very venue of a three-week-long eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between the armies of the two Asian giants two years ago. The first of its kind border personnel meeting at DBO was hosted by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), marking a milestone in India-China relation at the border troops level.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

The proceedings — which involved salutations to the Chinese national flag, ceremonial address by leaders of the two delegations and a cultural programme showcasing Chinese culture — reflected the two sides’ mutual desire of maintaining cordial relations at functional level at the border. "Both the delegations interacted in a free, congenial and cordial environment. The delegation parted amidst feeling of friendship and commitment towards enhancing the existing cordial relations and maintaining peace along the LAC (Line of Actual Control)," a brief statement by the Indian defence ministry said.

So far, so good; however, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. It is a welcome gesture by the Chinese that they added a sensitive area like DBO as the fifth venue of border personnel meetings with India, the second one within a couple of months when a border meeting point was opened in Kibithoo in Arunachal Pradesh in May this year. Three other border meeting points between India and China are: Spanngur Gap (Chushul, Ladakh), Bum-La (Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh) and Nathu-La (Sikkim).

The previous UPA government had to bear the brunt of Chinese incursions in Chushul area, particularly DBO. The Line of Actual Control had threatened to become a Line of No Control two years ago, prompting Narendra Modi, then the BJP’s prime ministerial face for the 2014 general elections, to launch a frontal attack on the UPA government’s China policy.

However Modi had to face a similar embarrassment after becoming the prime minister when Chinese troops launched yet another incursion into Indian territory in September 2014 and that too when Chinese President Xi Jinping was on Indian soil on his maiden official visit to India.

By making DBO as the fifth border meeting point between Indian and Chinese military commanders, China has provided some succor to PM Modi ahead of his second address to the nation from the ramparts of Red Fort on the coming Independence Day.

The Chinese gesture connotes a sort of climb-down by Beijing. It can also be taken as China extending an olive branch to India, though it remains to be seen whether China will continue to maintain tranquility on the LAC or whether it is just a tactical move by the PLA with a nasty surprise in the pipeline.

However, it must be pointed out that the Chinese gesture by making DBO as the fifth border meeting point is not a flash in the pan. It has taken some hard military decisions by India in past seven years that has triggered Saturday’s event.

Two such military steps, both taken by the UPA government, need to be mentioned.

Stung by the Dragon’s aggressive military posturing, the UPA government had paid China back in the same coin when the Indian Air Force landed its C-130J Super Hercules transport plane at the DBO airstrip on 20 August, 2013. This was the IAF’s demonstration of its capability to use this heavy-lift aircraft to rush reinforcements and logistic supplies in the remote Chushul sector.

The landing of Hercules transport plane at DBO was India’s second major strategic counter to China after the disused airstrip was reactivated in 2008 and an Antonov-32 transport aircraft was landed there by the IAF. The DBO airstrip was last used in the India-Pakistan war in 1965.

The two developments rattled the Chinese.

The Chushul area, particularly DBO, holds immense strategic importance for India. The DBO airstrip will be of pivotal importance to cripple the nearby Karakoram Highway between China and Pakistan in the event of an India-China war. Of course, DBO will be the top target of the Chinese forces in a war situation but China knows that India will be fiercely protecting DBO and prevent Chinese airstrikes on the airstrip for as long as possible.

Just a few days of military operations from DBO can be a game-changer. It is against this backdrop that Saturday’s development at DBO is important for the two sides to maintain peace and tranquility along the LAC.

In March-April this year, the IAF had conducted three-week-long war games “Livewire” involving 400 fighter jets aimed at meeting twin challenges from China as well as Pakistan simultaneously.

Updated Date: Aug 02, 2015 14:04 PM

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