Even as tensions remain high around the disputed Senkaku islands, China appears to be asserting its sovereignty elsewhere along its periphery. Indian officials have accused China of a deep incursion into the disputed Jammu and Kashmir region, with Chinese forces reportedly 10 kilometers inside Indian territory.
While there have been regular Chinese probes across the “Line of Actual Control” (or LAC, the de facto Sino–Indian border) over the past decade, this is the deepest penetration yet. As worrisome, this is in Ladakh, in the highly sensitive region of Kashmir, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan, China’s longtime ally. A Chinese presence that penetrates the LAC in this region dangerously destabilizes the situation, as it may well be taken as a renewed commitment by China of support for Pakistan. Given the steady modernization of Chinese forces along the Himalayan frontier, the pressures on the Indian military are clearly growing.
New Delhi states that there have been at least two meetings involving both sides’ militaries, but with no sign that the Chinese have vacated the area. Indeed, there is a report today that Chinese helicopters have penetrated even deeper into Indian airspace, suggesting that Beijing may be attempting to create a “new normal.” Given recent Chinese behavior elsewhere along its maritime frontiers, there is a real concern that Beijing may be intent upon changing facts on the ground by establishing a long-term presence, effectively moving the LAC deeper into Indian-held territory.
On Mischief Reef and Scarborough Shoal, Chinese fishing boats and maritime patrol craft were used to establish a presence. On Mischief Reef, this was followed by more permanent fixed facilities, while the Chinese have now apparently built a boom across the entrance to Scarborough Shoal. Beijing has essentially established Chinese control over those territories, in support of its sovereignty claims.
What remains unclear is why Beijing would choose to make such an overt, antagonizing move now, so soon after the visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and apparently while U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey is in China. Given the repeated emphasis on sovereignty and territorial integrity in the recent Chinese defense white paper, it may be that Beijing is reminding the world, including the United States, of its intention to secure what it claims are its borders.
Regrettably, Secretary Kerry chose to spend more time discussing climate change and “green living” in his Tokyo speech than underscoring American alliance commitments. General Dempsey, meanwhile, has reportedly focused on cybersecurity in his discussions with the Chinese. There is an urgent and growing need for a clear statement of American intentions towards the region to both reassure American friends and allies, as well as make clear to Beijing that its policies are not only destabilizing but ultimately self-defeating.