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Last updated: May 6, 2013 11:46 am
China and India have defused a tense three-week stand off along their disputed border, with both countries agreeing to withdraw troops from rival camps set up in an area normally under Indian control.
The pullback, which Indian media said was expected to end by Monday evening, brings a peaceful end to an incident that had riled India’s security establishment, and threatened to derail the planned visit of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to India, his first overseas visit since taking power.
“The governments of India and China have agreed to restore the status quo ante along the line of actual control in the Western sector of the India-China boundary, as it existed before April 15,” said Syed Akbaruddin, the Indian foreign ministry spokesman. “Flag meetings have been held to work out the modalities and to confirm the arrangements.”
New Delhi had said 30 Chinese troops, supported by helicopters, set up a tent camp 19km inside territory it normally holds along the disputed Himalayan border in the Ladakh region. India sent its own forces to surround the Chinese camp.
Photos released by the Indian army at the height of the stand-off showed a group of six Chinese soldiers on the remote, rock-strewn landscape, holding a sign in Mandarin and English, saying “This is the line of actual control, you are in Chinese territory.”
While Beijing never publicly acknowledged what Indian analysts considered the worst border incursion along the disputed frontier in years, local army commanders held a series of meetings, India’s foreign secretary lodged a protest with China’s ambassador, and top officials in Beijing and New Delhi had talks with counterparts.
India’s Congress-led government – which came under heavy fire from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party for its allegedly sluggish and weak response to the Chinese provocation – has refused to give any details about pullback or any concessions made to secure it.
But many Indian strategic analysts say Beijing has clearly bested India in what one described as a “shadowboxing” match over the undemarcated, and contested border.
“In this round, the Chinese have clearly won the game,” says Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of Chinese studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, and author of several books on China’s army and security strategy. “The Chinese have conveyed that this is a disputed area, and India couldn’t do much. The real issue is that the power asymmetry between the two sides is clearly in favour of China.”
Mr Kondapalli said the incident would put India on a “weak wicket” in dealing with China in an upcoming round of talks. Salman Kurshid, India’s foreign minister, will visit Beijing on Thursday, which is expected to pave the way for Mr Li’s visit to India soon after.
The incident took place in one of the border regions taken by Chinese troops in the war of 1962, and is today marked by a vaguely defined “line of actual control,” the de facto border. However, India’s security establishment has grown increasingly anxious about the disparity in infrastructure on the two sides.
While China has modern roads on its side, India has little more than dirt tracks. Says Mr Kondapalli,.“it takes a few hours for Chinese patrols to reach the border [from the nearest bases] and on the Indian side it takes one or two weeks to reach the border.”
In recent years, New Delhi has tried to address that perceived imbalance with a spate of road-building programmes, but its efforts have clearly been met with Chinese disapproval, and in some cases have been halted.
Many analysts believe the current incursion was intended to stop India from upgrading the limited infrastructure on its side of the border, and many are speculating about what concessions New Delhi may have made to ensure the Chinese pullback.
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