A fortnight ago Chinese troops entered 19km into Indian territory across the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Because the Indian and Chinese borders are disputed, there has been no demarcation of borders. In the absence of a recognized border, the LAC functions as a separating line between the two countries. It is not a line based on perceptions, as some commentators have argued. The two countries agreed to maintain peace and tranquillity on the LAC in 1993. The LAC is well-known to each side and any incursion is a hostile act.

Since then, China has refused to budge in spite of a number of meetings being held between local Indian and Chinese commanders. China’s motivations are not hard to fathom. Two are salient in the present stand-off. In recent years, India has tried hard to speed up the construction of basic border infrastructure in Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. This bears no comparison with what China has done on its side of the border. But even these minimal efforts have attracted Chinese ire. The incursion in Ladakh and the preconditions the Chinese have set to depart—dismantling of Indian structures—hint this very clearly.

At a strategic level, it is not unusual for China to test Indian resolve. Every time a new leadership takes over in China, some unusual activity takes place on the border. There is a pattern to this.

The localized dispute in Ladakh can, of course, be sorted out through diplomacy and some deft military posturing, for example, by massing more troops near the site of the incursion. What India needs to be concerned about is the strategic level of the problem. Its China policy is reactive to the extreme. Be it Chinese opposition to Indian oil exploration efforts off the Vietnamese coast; stapled visas for residents of Arunachal Pradesh or any other misadventure, India reacts and never shows any effort to pre-empt possible Chinese moves. It certainly does not believe in matching, tit-for-tat action. Even in the present dispute, India has been extremely reluctant to take on China more forcefully. This attitude only gives ideas to the Chinese leadership.

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