He will also expect — or at least he should by now — Chinese forces to move across the disputed border between the two countries known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC), military stand-offs, perhaps even a re-publication of maps showing the Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh as the Chinese territory of ‘Southern Tibet’.
It has become a typical Chinese gambit in its relations with India: Wait until some friendly diplomatic event between the two countries is under way then launch a border provocation. What happens then? India could react by heading straight home if it is the visiting party – or kicking its Chinese guests out of the country if they are the visitors.
Either way it is a massive escalation of tensions within the region and the possibility of an all-out border war that India knows it is not strong enough to fight. So the alternative is to grit teeth and carry on, leaving the impression it is not particularly concerned about the territories in dispute.
These tactics were all-too apparent with the visit to New Delhi of Chinese President Xi Jinping last September which coincided with a Chinese intrusion into Chumar, a border region in the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
Then there was Premier Li Keqiang’s 2013 visit which followed a Chinese encroachment into the Depsang Plains, also in Jammu and Kashmir. This was particularly galling for India as the Plains were the scene of heavy fighting during China’s 1962 invasion, with Bejing’s forces still occupying areas it captured during that conflict.
One of India’s most prominent strategic thinkers, Brahma Chellaney, believes there is a further dimension to China’s tactics. He points out that the Indian-occupied area of Depsang and Chumar have never been part of China’s territorial claims until now.
“With the aid of progressively increasing or recurrent incursions in each coveted area, the strategy aims to create a dispute where no dispute has existed so that China can subsequently demand that it be settled ‘peacefully’ on give-and-take terms,” he says.
Chellaney points out that Modi has quite clearly stated that a final settlement, or at least peace on the border, is a prerequisite to improved India-China relations, but it is time he backed words with actions.
“India’s first line of defence remains a thinly stretched police force. The Home Ministry-administered Indo-Tibetan Border Police is no match for the People’s Liberation Army’s guile and capability. Beefing up its strength alone won’t suffice; it must be placed under the army’s operational command,” he says.
Chellaney is right. Such a move would not automatically lead to armed confrontation, as some doves fear, but would convey a clear message to Beijing that India is tired of its games along the LAC and will not allow its territory to be nibbled away little by little.
Caution is certainly needed in these delicate dealings. Appeasement is not.