NEW DELHI: In the decade since 2013, as India ramped up border infrastructure development, incursions by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have seen a steady rise. But these incursions can also be linked to other events, domestic and external. It has also led some analysts to suspect that Beijing is using the nationalism card to divert attention from issues that could otherwise be controversial at home.
Let’s begin with April 2013 when Chinese troops set up a camp in the Depsang valley in Ladakh. This happened almost a month before China’s then Premier Li Keqiang’s visit in May. As China studiously denied any incursion, New Delhi rushed troops to the area, leading to a standoff that lasted over three weeks. It was evident that the presence of PLA troops on Indian soil would cast a shadow over Li Keqiang’s visit, nevertheless China persisted. Were the mandarins in Beijing playing for higher stakes?
Some reports said that a month before this incursion, China had proposed a draft agreement with India to limit the number of troops along the LAC ‘to maintain peace along the border’. Was the Depsang incursion an attempt to force India to accept this agreement?
Another incursion took place in September 2014, this time in the Chumar sector of Ladakh, with Chinese troops again entering Indian territory and setting up camps, claiming that the area was disputed. The incursion came days ahead of President Xi Jinping’s official visit to India. The buzz was Xi’s domestic rivals opposed to his anti-corruption campaign had orchestrated this move to embarrass him.
The frequency of PLA incursions spiked further following the 2017 standoff on the Doklam plateau in Bhutan, where Indian troops stopped the PLA from building a road along the tri-junction of the India-Bhutan-China border.
On 9th June 2018, the PLA intruded into Demchok in southeastern Ladakh, just weeks before India’s Parliament session. The very next year as the Lok Sabha elections took place in India from 11th April to 19th May 2019, the PLA intruded into Naku La in Sikkim twice around that time.
When the Indian government announced the revocation of Article 370 and 35-A and reduced J&K to a Union Territory on 5th August 2019, another incursion took place the very next month in F-VIII and Pangong Tso in Ladakh, also in Tulung La located in the northeastern corner of Tawang district in Arunachal Pradesh at the same time.
U.S. President Donald Trump made his first visit to India on 24th February 2020, and on 3rd March PLA intruded into Naku La again in what is seen as indicating Beijing’s disapproval of growing India-U.S. relations.
But it’s not always events in India that sparked such incursions. On 6th January 2021, 54 activists, former legislators, social workers and academics were arrested by the Hong Kong Police over their organization and participation in the primaries for the subsequently postponed Legislative Council election. As news of mainland China’s brutal clampdown made global headlines, the PLA intruded into Smugglers Gap (Dumtsele) in Ladakh on 18th January 2021.
Again when China faced global criticism for clamping down on fan culture on the internet, including a ban on celebrity gossip and the removal of all content related to popular actress Zhao Wei from the Chinese internet in August 2021, another intrusion took place in Naku La from 13th-15th September. Days later, in the wake of the Evergrande debt crisis, there was an intrusion in Yangtse in Arunachal Pradesh on 28th September 2021, in what is seen as an attempt to distract attention from the economic crisis.
In November 2022, as China reeled under President Xi Jinping’s ‘Zero Covid’ policy, a fire in a building in Urumqi made world headlines, and sparked what was later described as the A4 Revolution/White Paper Revolution in China, with thousands of people taking to the streets to protest against the policy. As the #A4Revolution made headlines, another incursion took place in Yangtse
Clearly, China’s incursions are driven by a combination of domestic and external reasons that include deterring the growth of India’s border infrastructure or signalling displeasure and annoyance during key events in India. This trend is likely to continue unless the visit of China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang signals a change.
|Chinese Intrusions||Date||Linked To||Date|
|PLA sets up camp in Depsang, Western Sector of LAC||April 2013||Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s India visit||May 2013|
|PLA incursion in Chumar, Western Sector of LAC||September 2014||Chinese President Xi Jinping’s India trip focusing on trade relations||18th September 2014|
|PLA intrusion in Demchok region, Western Sector of LAC||9th June 2018||Indian Parliament session||18th July to 10th August|
|PLA intrusion in Naku La in Eastern Sector of LAC||18th April & 30th May 2019||Lok Sabha elections in India||11th April-19th May 2019|
|PLA intrusion in F-VIII and Pangong Tso in Western Sector of LAC||11th September 2019||Indian government’s announcement of revocation of Article 370 and 35-A in Jammu and Kashmir||5th August 2019|
|PLA intrusion in Naku La in Eastern Sector of LAC||3rd March 2020||US President Donald Trump’s visit to India||24th February 2020|
|PLA intrusion in Smugglers Gap in Eastern Sector of LAC||18th January 2021||Arrest of activists in Hong Kong under national security law||6th January 2021|
|Intrusion in Naku La in Eastern Sector of LAC||13th-15th September 2021||Chinese government’s crackdown on fan culture on the internet, including ban on celebrity gossip||August 2021|