The rivalry between India and China has existed since the our independence in 1947, and history has shown numerous instances of tensions, diplomatic disputes border incursions, military deployment and the resulting geopolitical conundrums that ensue because of it. Although there are numerous treaties in place and there is a line of actual control (LAC), there have been many violations by China and the recent invasion of the Chinese army in Ladakh and setting up of Chinese outposts is another such violation and has put both the countries at odds again.
This article covers the treaties governing the two countries, instances of incursions in the past, the diplomatic context of the same and the ramifications of the present situation.
THE TREATIES AND THE DISPUTES:
At the heart of India’s and China’s continued inability to make meaningful progress on the boundary issue are four agreements — signed in September 1993, November 1996, April 2005 and October 2013 — between the two countries. Unfortunately these are deeply flawed agreements and make the efforts for a permanent solution for the border dispute illusory.
According to the 1993 agreement on maintenance of border peace and tranquility along the LAC, pending an ultimate solution, the two sides are supposed to strictly respect the LAC and not overstep it. Other treaties are meant for confidence building that both the countries will reduce their respective military forces within mutually agreed geographical zones along the LAC. The ambiguity over the LAC has brought a prolonged sense of unease and uncertainty and thus exponentially contributed to the military build-up in those areas. Had there been two separate lines of control, one for Indian troops and one for Chinese troops, the area between the two lines would have officially been designated a no man’s land and curbed China’s advances.
But divergences exist in China’s version of the LAC and India’s version of the LAC. All deliberations until now have not yielded any results. China has rejected the McMahon Line as the official border and this is the prime reason for both the countries’ embattlement. The most significant effort to reconcile the two versions of LAC was made in 2003, but in the end was a fruitless exercise
Face-offs occur when the patrolling troops clash with each other in the contested zones between overlapping claim lines. By disregarding India’s LAC, China is not bound in any to limit military action. Protocols agreed to in 2005 and 2013 are meant to prevent such incidents but have rarely been adhered to.
DOKLAM ISSUE AND THE CURRENT SITUATION:
A striking example of India China border dispute is the Doklam issue in June 2017, when Chinese troops with construction vehicles and road-building equipment began extending an existing road southward in Doklam, a territory which is claimed by both China as well as India’s ally Bhutan. As part of Operation Juniper, about 270 Indian troops armed with weapons and two bulldozers crossed the Sikkim border into Doklam to stop the Chinese troops from constructing the road. The situation was eased in the next month when both troops agreed to withdraw.
The current situation has played out in the following manner:
The standoff in Galwan Valley of Ladakh was triggered by China moving in troops and equipment to stop construction activity by India. The LAC was thought to be settled in this area which has not seen many incidents in the past, but China now appears to think otherwise. The northern bank of Pangong Lake in Ladakh has, however, been a point of contention where there are differing perceptions of the LAC. There is enough information to conclude that this is the most serious tussle India and China have seen in years, even considering Doklam. The situation in eastern Ladakh deteriorated after around 250 Chinese and Indian soldiers were engaged in a violent face-off on the evening of May 5 which continued over to the next day before the two sides agreed to “disengage” after a meeting at the level of local commanders.
The Ministry of External Affairs has been monitoring the situation and affirmed its commitment to work for the common objective of maintenance of peace and tranquility in border areas, as was agreed upon in Chennai in an informal meeting between PM Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping during the latter’s visit to the country.
HOW TO RESOLVE THIS SITUATION?
The settlement is likely to be very prolonged issue because the terrain of the region are in the favor of Chinese troops. China has prepared road infrastructure near the border but has objected to a similar action by the Indian Border Roads Organization (BRO). According to agency reports citing sources, China, which has been flying choppers in the area, has also objected to the movement of Indian aircraft in the area.
This might mean that India and China have to go back to the drawing board and renegotiate the border issue with revive the efforts initiated in 2003 and delineate a demilitarized zone until a permanent solution can be reached.
The US offered to mediate on this issue. Although India and China are divided on the border Issue, both are in agreement over the fact that foreign intervention in the issue is not required and that this issue can be resolved, like the Doklam conundrum with ‘Concerted efforts and wisdom’.
The Incursion come on the back of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and its ambitions to build a large trade route connecting the Middle East and some parts of Europe and Western Asia. China has also been foraying into countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
China is emerging as a global superpower in the world and with its emergence as a rival to the Economic might of the United States, India has to contend with a powerful and militarily aggressive country. The pandemic having originated in China because of which India has had to be in over 2 month lockdown is another reason for India’s relationship with China becoming fragile.
Though India rejected US’s hand in the negotiations, India might have to deepen its relationship with the US in its self Interest. US-India cooperation is critical to ensuring the security of the Indian Ocean and bringing greater leverage to bear in the Western Pacific. In addition, the Government’s Act East policy and a strategic partnership with countries like Australia, Japan, and USA (known as the Quad) has created a framework for better security cooperation.
Border Dispute Resolution between India and China will remain a contentious issue going forward. The Government has to look at this issue as a result of rather than the cause of improving relations with China.