India will send a high-ranking delegation to China next month to set the stage for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Beijing later this year, where the two countries could put to rest an ongoing border dispute.
Citing unnamed defense sources the Press Trust of India reported on Sunday that a delegation of Indian military officials will travel to China later this month to work out details of joint naval and air force exercises. The move is part of a larger effort to quell tensions over the row.
Another high-ranking delegation of ministers are also scheduled to visit Beijing next month to set the stage for the visit between the countries two leaders in October, where the two sides could sign the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement that includes protocols such as prohibiting the exchange of gunfire.
The two armies routinely trail each other’s patrols and conduct "banner exercises" within sight of each other, waving their respective country’s flags. Earlier this year, China proposed banning all infrastructure development in the disputed territories, but India rejected the move, pointing to a military buildup by China along the disputed borders.
It's by no means, however, guaranteed that the border agreement will be signed in October. Last month, Lt. Gen. Prakash Katoch, of the Indian Army’s I Corps, lambasted the agreement in Indian Defence Review, calling it a “dangerous trap” by China.
“China has developed border infrastructure so intricately [in the disputed territories] that its roads and tracks even in high mountainous regions look like fingers running down your spine,” he wrote. “In some cases the roads are intruding into Indian Territory that our hierarchy is petrified to admit."
Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony traveled to Beijing in early July to meet with his Chinese counterpart Gen. Chang Wanquan to discuss the dispute. The two sides issued a rosy statement after the meeting, saying they're seeking to “enhance mutual trust.”
Arun Sahgal, director of the Forum Strategic Initiative think tank, told DefenseNews that despite numerous rounds of talks over the issue, China appears to have its mind made up.
“[China] is, however, concerned by the fact that India is rising out of its stupor and has started taking steps to upgrade both infrastructure and defense capability,” he said. “Beijing will keep the boundary line delineation issue hanging till such time it sees as a positive leverage.” China claims about 35,000 square miles of territory that India insists falls within its sovereignty.
The border between the northern Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir and Tibet, which China claims, has been the focus of a series of recent standoffs between the People’s Liberation Army and the Indian Army. China also claims a swath of territory to India’s northeast, near Bhutan and Bangladesh.
On July 16, 50 members of the People’s Liberation Army on horses and ponies rode into the Ladakh, a northern territory claimed by India, amid routine banner drills where both armies patrol the disputed line waving their respective countries’ flags. A week earlier, Chinese military helicopters violated Indian air space in the same area. Incursions by China into areas India claims have increased since April, raising concerns that the military posturing could lead to armed conflict.