The second disputed sector is roughly 2,000 kilometers east of Karakoram, near the "trijunction" of the India-Bhutan-China border. Prior to 1950, the area was the trijunction of the India-Bhutan-Tibet border. In 1950, Mao Zedong's victorious communist army, having forced its nationalist foes to flee to Taiwan, invaded Tibet and claimed it for Mao's avowedly anti-imperialist China.
In 1959, India gave Tibet's Dalai Lama refuge. Mao saw India as a threat to China's interests.
Mao's China kicked off its 1962 attack on Indian Army positions in both sectors during the Cuban Missile Crisis. As the world focused on the U.S.-Soviet Union confrontation, Beijing decided to use bayonets to define the border.
Chinese forces, acclimated to the high altitudes, quickly defeated Indian soldiers rushed north to meet the offensive. The defeat still rankles the Indian Army.
At the moment, China has a superior road network in the disputed regions, which translates into superior logistics capabilities. China reportedly sees India's use of two "advance landing grounds" (small forward airfields) in the Karakoram sector as a signal that India intends to improve its ability to reinforce the disputed zone.
Far-sighted diplomacy could resolve the border dispute. Senior Chinese and Indian officials will meet later this month, and the dispute will be on the agenda. But with control of Asia's genuine high ground at stake, definitive resolution is a dim prospect.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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