Prime Minister Narendra Modi visit to a forward post in Ladakh served as a morale booster for the forces and by addressing the Jawans at 11,000 feet height he sent a powerful message to China that it’s no more LAC, its LOC now, though he never uttered such words.
“The age of expansionism is over. History knows that expansionist forces have either lost or were forced to turn back. The weak can never accomplish peace, the brave do,” PM said from the top of the mountain.
The Prime Minister was trying to say that India will no more tolerate the Chinese aggression. In other words what he meant henceforth there is no more going to be Line of Actual Control and it will be Line of Control that India will protect.
India’s border with China traverses through the Union territory of Ladak (1597 km), Himachal Pradesh (200 km), Uttarakhand (345 km), Sikkim () Arunachal Pradesh (1126 km).
India says it shares a 3488 km border with China. China says it shares only 2000 km of border with India. The difference of 1126 km is Arunachal Pradesh that India controls but China claims on its own. Also China does not recognize the 362 km boundary claim of India.
All this is because India insists on the McMahon line that British delineated as the boundary between India and China that China does not recognize. It has imaginarily and unilaterally demarcated a Line of Actual Control that it has dictated after the 1962 war.
So the fundamental difference between India and China is the land boundary question of 1488 km and two countries hold different perceptions of the boundary line at different places of the imagined border.
Going back to history there was no demarcated boundary between India and China since antiquity. What actually was only a frontier between the two countries?
The Princely state of Jammu and Kashmir though held the sovereignty of Ladak but had long given its suzerainty to China that controlled most of Ladak.
After the merger of the Princely state of Jammu and Kashmir to Indian Union, Ladak became part of the Indian Territory, with conflicting claims between India and Pakistan over the entire territory of the erstwhile princely state, with China still holding its sway over eastern portion of Ladak.
In 1949 China that actually held suzerainty over Tibet occupied it and lay claim over its sovereignty. It made Tibet its autonomous region to which India and other countries objected. Meanwhile, India incorporated the McMahon line in its Constitution in 1950 and demarcated its boundary with China, to which China objected.
There were protests in Tibet against China’s occupation that was alleged to be supported by India. China in order to quell the uprising started making the road concrete in the Aksai Chin region of Ladak to carry its troops from its Xingjian province to Tibet.
China completed this link road in 1957 amidst India’s objections that Aksai Chin is Indian Territory. The situation on the ground deteriorated that led to the Sino-Indian War of 1962. The war ended with a unilateral ceasefire by China.
After the end of the war, Line of Actual Control emerged that was mutually agreed upon but remained un-demarcated lines with both India and China having different perceptions over it. Both India and China moved back its troops to 20 kilometers from the Line of Actual Control that divided areas under Indian and Chinese control.
It is because of unresolved and un-demarcated boundary issues with China that transgressions and face-offs between both side’s patrols happened at regular intervals at different locations of the LAC.
The situation was resolved through the mutually established protocols to maintain peace and tranquility on the border. These protocols with China were established to resolve issues amicably at the local formation commander level and the resolving mechanism involved the local Border Personnel Meeting (BPM).
The rapprochement between the two countries reached in 1976 enabled India and China to initiate High Level border talks in 1981 to find a solution to the vexed problem. After eight rounds, the talks broke down in 1987.
In 1988, following Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to China, the Joint Working Group (JWG) was set up to look into the border problem.
The two countries signed agreements in 1993 and 1996 to respect the Line of Actual Control. In 1993, the Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) was signed. The India-China Expert Group of Diplomatic and Military Officers was set up to assist the JWG.
In 1996, the Agreement on Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) in the Military Field along the LAC was signed. In 2003, two special representatives (one each from India and China) were appointed to find a political solution to the border dispute. Till 2009, these two special representatives had held 17 rounds of talks, but it seems they did not make much headway.
The Modi government appointed National Security Advisor Ajit Doval as Special Envoy for talks with China but he has hardly done anything noticeable.
Then the India and China stand-off took place in 2017 at Doklam. After some 70 days of being engaged in combat mood, the two sides disengaged.
The Doklam issue was discussed in the Wuhan Summit in 2018 and two nations decided to issue “strategic guidance” to their militaries to strengthen communications so that they can build trust and understanding.
This was further reciprocated by the second India-China informal summit at Mamallapuram near Chennai in 2019 that was to take forward the Wuhan agenda.
However, in May 2020 clashes broke out between Indian and Chinese soldiers first at Pangong Lake on May 5 and then at Naku La sector in Sikkim on May 9. This was followed by violent clashes in Galwan Valley in Ladak on June 15, when 20 Indian soldiers were brutally killed. Since then Indian and Chinese troops have moved in extra troops to positions opposite each other and currently it is in eyeball to eyeball contact mode.
What is seen in the attempts so far made to resolve the issues several times that the problem has remained the same and there is no forward movement because of the vast difference in perception about the actual boundary line between the two countries?
This time with the Prime Minister visiting the forward location in Ladakh, he has sent the message to the Chinese that he is not going to take things lying down any more.
The Prime Minister’s visit to Ladakh gives ample hint that India wants to dig deep into its position and has unofficially declared that there is no more LAC and what remains is the LOC that India is protecting now.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at email@example.com