New Delhi: It's now one week since Chinese troops quietly entered Depsang, south of Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) in eastern Ladakh. Although two flag meetings have been held between the DBO Sector brigadier and his Chinese counterpart, as yet there's no change in the status quo: The Chinese say its their territory. The army has brought in the Ladakh Scouts to beef up the ITBP unit sitting 500 metres directly across the Chinese.
Looking at the broader picture, the timing of the incident is odd, with China's premier Le Keqiang due in Delhi in May. It's hard to accept the view that a section of the PLA brass have engineered this incident. No less than President Xi Jinping heads the Central Military Commission and made some tough remarks recently on enforcing China's territorial claims. It may not have been directed at India but the broader implications of those comments are now obvious.
Diplomats say India's window of opportunity vis a vis China has been shrinking and we have little to show for it especially in terms of improved infrastructure in Ladakh. Roads barely exist, communications are uncertain. Yes, landing grounds have been commissioned in Daulat Beg Oldi, Fuk-Che and Nyoma but the effort has been halting and limited compared to what China has achieved just across the Line of Actual Control.
The warning signals have been there for a long time. Historically Daulat Beg Oldi has been prone to far more intrusions and face offs than perhaps other sectors in eastern Ladakh. A face off in December 2000 saw the two sides prepare to fire on each other. There's also Trig Heights directly across where Chinese intrusions are routine.
The MEA is playing down the incident, a position which reflects the army's weakness on the ground. Even if this incident is resolved, China is going to get more and more difficult to deal with as its power (along with the defence budget) expands. Expect the dragon to provoke similar face offs in Pangong Tso, Chushul and Nyoma.