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May 20, 2013 at 11:56am IST

Connecting the dots: the Raki Nulla face-off, Li Keqiang's visit and control of the high seas

"Tensions along the Line of Actual Control don't give leverage unless you stay there," said a senior diplomat with long experience of China. And China didn't stay on at Raki Nulla in eastern Ladakh during the face off last month, raising the question as to why it happened in the first place.

"I don't buy the theory of discord between the civil and military establishment. That's a Western argument," said the diplomat. He had no doubt the face off was planned but it could well be that someone somewhere overstepped his brief. The Chinese can be expected to deal harshly with the person or persons found responsible. "At some point it will come out, a report here or a communication there," the diplomat said. "But the incursions and constant probing along the LAC will continue."

Points to ponder as India rolls out the red carpet for Premier Li Keqiang. There's no doubt the face off has deepened the trust deficit, which is probably one of the reasons why the premier is here. Otherwise, he could have done better to wait this government out (with elections due in some months) and dealt with the new political dispensation on a fresh slate.

Connecting the dots: The Raki Nulla face-off, Li Keqiang's visit

There is no doubt the face-off has deepened the trust deficit, which is probably one of the reasons why the Premier is in India.

But the Chinese, in the diplomat's view, have other reasons to reach out. "Just as we talk of China's string of pearls strategy to isolate and contain India, the Chinese have similar fears. "Keeping in mind that China is critically dependent on the Indian Ocean for the smooth flow of its energy supplies; an adversarial India has the potential to do enormous damage. The Chinese have watched the growth of the Indian Navy including its undersea nuclear element and respect its capabilities.

"Since Kargil there's been a reassessment of the capabilities of Indian Army," said a senior army officer. "They don't take us lightly anymore and with the air force stationing Su-30MKI fighters at Chabua and Tezpur, there's a lot of Tibet and the Chinese mainland that comes within striking range."

Which is another explanation to their behaviour. To be fair to the Chinese they've been doing this and a lot else in the past few years, from stapled visas to heli-dropping cans of food in Chumar. Thankfully we haven't (yet?) reached the stage of Japan which is engaged in a high seas confrontation with the Chinese although nobody's ruling that out.