Relations between India and China are fairly stable at the strategic level. Political and economic relations are much better now than these have been since the 1962 war. Mutual economic dependence is growing rapidly and bilateral trade has crossed $50 billion. The two countries have been cooperating in international fora like WTO talks and climate change negotiations. There has even been some cooperation in energy security as well. 
However, at the tactical level, China has of late been exhibiting a markedly aggressive political, diplomatic and military attitude. The security relationship, in particular, has the potential to act as a spoiler and will ultimately determine whether the two Asian giants will clash or cooperate for mutual gains. 
China continues to be in physical occupation of large areas of Indian territory. On Aksai Chin plateau in Ladakh, China is in physical possession of approximately 38,000 sq km of Indian territory since the mid-1950s. In addition, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 sq km of Indian territory to China in 1963 in the Shaksgam Valley of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, north of the Siachen Glacier, under a bilateral boundary agreement that India does not recognise. 
Through this area China built the Karakoram highway that now provides a strategic land link between Sinkiang, Tibet and Pakistan. China continues to stake its claim to about 96,000 sq km of Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh, which it calls Southern Tibet. Chinese interlocutors have repeatedly claimed that the Tawang Tract, in particular, is part of Tibet and that the merger of this area with Tibet is non-negotiable. China’s often stated official position is that the reunification of Chinese territories is a sacred duty. 
It is not so well known that the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China, implying de facto control after the 1962 war, is yet to be physically demarcated on the ground and delineated on military maps. The LAC is quite different from the disputed 4,056 km long boundary between India and Tibet. The un-delineated LAC is a major destabilising factor as incidents such as the Nathu La clash of 1967 and the Wang Dung standoff of 1986 can recur. 
Early in 2005, India and China had agreed to identify ‘guiding principles and parameters’ for a political solution to the five-decade old dispute. Many foreign policy analysts hailed it as a great leap forward. However, in the case of Tawang, the Chinese have already gone back on the agreed parameter that ‘settled populations will not be disturbed.’ This is not the first time that India signed a ‘feel good’ agreement with the Chinese. Objections raised 
Objections Raised
In fact, despite the Border Peace and Tranquillity Agreement (BPTA) signed with the Chinese in 1993 and the agreement on confidence building measures in the military field signed in 1996, border guards of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have intruded repeatedly into Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh. 
They have even objected to Indian road construction efforts. 
These intrusions have been periodically reported in the press and discussed in parliament. 
While no violent incident has taken place, there have been occasions when Indian and Chinese patrols have met face-to-face before backing off. 
Such meetings have an element of tension built into them and the possibility of an armed clash can never be ruled out. 
There is an inherent contradiction in sending soldiers to patrol what they are told and believe are Indian areas and simultaneously telling them that they must not under any circumstances fire on ‘intruding’ Chinese soldiers. This is the reason why it is operationally critical to demarcate the LAC on the ground and map. Once that is done, the inadequacy of recognisable terrain features can be overcome GPS satellite technology to accurately navigate up to the agreed and well-defined LAC on the ground and avoid transgressing it even unintentionally. 
Demarcation of the LAC without prejudice to each other’s position on the territorial dispute would be an excellent confidence building measure. China’s intransigence in exchanging maps showing the alignment of the LAC in the western and the eastern sectors, while talking of lofty guiding principles and parameters to resolve the territorial and boundary dispute, is neither understandable nor condonable. It can only be described as another attempt to put off the dispute ‘for future generations to resolve,’ as Deng Xiao Ping had famously told Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1988. 
The military gap between Indian and China is growing steadily as the PLA is modernising at a rapid pace and Indian modernisation plans are mired in red tape. China’s negotiating strategy is to stall resolution of the dispute till the Chinese are in a much stronger position in terms of comprehensive national strength so that they can dictate terms. 
It is in India’s interest to strive for an early resolution of the territorial dispute with China so that India has only one major military adversary to contend with. It is in this direction that the government of India must nudge the Chinese leadership during future meetings of the political interlocutors on the territorial dispute. 
(The author is director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi)