Sunday, April 06, 2008

China using Sikkim to push Arunachal claim?

NEW DELHI: China continues to play cat and mouse game in the eastern Himalayas despite having implicitly accepted Sikkim to be a part of India as a quid pro quo for New Delhi's unequivocal recognition of Beijing's claim over Tibet.

There have already been already as many as 40 "intrusions" by Chinese troops across the 206-km border between Sikkim and Tibet since January this year, say top sources.

"Chinese intrusions largely take place in Ladakh, Arunachal and other parts of the Line of Actual Control but now the transgressions across the border into Sikkim are also going up," said a source.

While the heightened Chinese cross-border activity in Sikkim has not actually alarm bells ringing in the Indian security establishment, as of now since the intrusions are being dubbed "minor", it has certainly raised some eyebrows.

Some officials feel this is part of China's game plan to use Sikkim as leverage in its policy of exerting relentless pressure on India over the Tawang tract in Arunachal Pradesh.

As reported earlier, in 2007 alone, India recorded well over 140 intrusions by Chinese troops across the 4,057-km LAC in all the three sectors - western (Ladakh), middle (Uttarakhand, Himachal) and eastern (Sikkim, Arunachal) - in a bid to strengthen Beijing's claim over disputed areas and ensuring India does not change its Tibet policy.

India, of course, does not see Sikkim as a "disputed area", especially after a compromise formula was worked out during Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit to China in 2003.

Under the arrangement, India recognised the Tibet Autonomous Region as a part of China. In return, through a border trade agreement, Beijing recognised the "Sikkim state" to be a constituent of the Indian union.

Subsequently, China even handed over a new official map to India, clearly showing Sikkim as part of Indian territory. "But China continues to treat Sikkim as a grey area, recognising it one day, and then derecognising it soon after," said an official.

"China, in fact, had lodged a complaint of Indian military activity in Sikkim soon after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Beijing earlier this year," said an official.

Though India has well over 40,000 troops in the tiny Sikkim state, which provides depth to the crucial Siliguri corridor linking Assam and the other north-eastern states with the country, its border management posture remains largely defensive.

"But China has been posturing aggressively, with regular motorised and foot patrols across the LAC. It also has the capacity to rush in troops to border areas in large numbers with its massive military infrastructure build-up," said an officer.

India, of course, continues to downplay all Chinese intrusions, holding that they take place due to "differing perceptions" of the still-unresolved LAC. Even the question of stepped up incursions, for instance, was not directly taken up during the PM's recent visit to China.