Border flash-points

The Irritants in Indo-Chinese Relations

The Indo-Chinese relations have been marred by mainly by the few issues that have come in way to the Chinese ambitions of territorial expansionism. The two nations are exactlyopposite in their approach. India after independence has traditionally been trying to retain the sanctity of its border with others whereas the Chinese have been doing exactly the opposite. No sooner it got its independence from the Japanese in 1949, theygrabbed Tibet. They saw a possibility of expanding their borders hence, unilaterally announced the Indo-Tibetan border as disputed and Indo-Tibetan agreements as nullified. They encroached upon Aksai Chin and occupied in 1959. They also attacked in 1962 and grabbed additional area in eastern Ladakh to occupy it.They also extended their claims on Sikkim and Arunachal.

Sino-Indian boarder has always been a potential source of skirmishes in the aftermath of the Chinese independence in 1949. Ever since the peaceful Buddhist nation of Tibet was forcibly occupied bythe communist Chinese in 1949-50, all understandings with Tibet on the international border with India were thrown in to the winds. The Chinese refuged to abide by the previous govt agreements. ThePLA continued with their ambitions of territorial expansions. Thereafter our northern border has been under Chinese threats. It was further complicated by the lopsided foreign policies of the then PM Nehru. The much hyped ‘panchsheel accord’ signed on 29 Apr 54 was ridden with problems from the very beginning. There was a lack of clarity on the international border further distorted by the Chinese invasion of Tibet. Even though it was ratified by UN in Dec 57, the distrust between the neighbours were mounting which finally led to the debacle of 1962 war. It took some time for India to recovered from it. The Line of Actual Control (LAC) remains ill-defined even after 58 yrs of China war. The decades of lop-sided Indian diplomacy towards the Chinese are evidently bizarre in that while India succumbed to the pressureof “One China policy” the Chinese are yet to acknowledge Sikkim and Arunachal as integral parts of India. They have been violating the sanctity of LAC with impunity in the past with many such intrusions going unnoticed and whatever few were detected, there were little resistance from the previous successive Indian Govts. There are long lists of ‘sticking points’ between India and China for over 6 decades. The list is further growing with some absurdacts of recent Chinese neo-colonies of Pakistan & Nepal. Some complacency on part of Indian forces have permitted the Chinese to occupy some parts of the Pangong lake between finger 8 to finger 4 areas and further fortify while the so-called ‘peaceful talks’ are progressing at snail pace.

The successive Congress govts of Nehru, Indira never tried seriously to address the Sino-India issues. It was only in December 1988 that PM Rajiv Gandhi visited China and the two countries agreed to settle the boundary questions through the principles of "Mutual Understanding and Accommodation and Mutual Adjustment" for the settlement of the boundary questions. The two sides established a Joint Working Group (JWG) on the boundary questions at the Vice-Foreign Ministerial level. However, not much of ice could be broken in the decades of over 20 rounds of talks essentially because of the distrust with each-other.

During Narsimha Rao and later Bajpayee ji’stenure as PM, China and India signed two agreements, in 1993 and 1996, to establish protocols to resolve potential disputes. These protocols included the mutual recognition of a "Line of Actual Control" (LAC), but disagreements continue between the two governments about where the LAC lies over a roughly 20km-wide swaths in various sectors. Talks did start but the feet remained cold, unable to move forward. India had documented several hundreds of incursions by the PLA in to the Indian territories every year. Bajpayee govt after Kargil war made a strong resolve to build-up the boarder roads all along the LoC and the LAC in 2001. Some projects were sanctioned and started too in the coming years but with the change of the govt in 2004, infrastructure development in the border areas were limited to the files. Many such incursions in the period prior to 2014 went unnoticed owing to the lack of infrastructures and the consequent inability to position permanent pickets of the border troops on the Indian side. In April 2012 a major PLA incursion had reached the proportion of flare-up when 400-500 Chinese came >30 Km inside the LAC and camped for several weeks. It was the major PLA incursions of 2013 in to the Depsang plateau and to the Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) air strip that created deep resentment among the Indian forces and opened the eyes of the UPA govt who was almost compelled to sanction and initiate the development of the border road infrastructures. By this period, PLA had a false notion that they can cross in to the Indian side with impunity. Most of the incursions by the PLA were down played by the Indian govts in the past. Indian govts of the past have seldom heeded to the repeated requests of ITBP, BSF and Army to build all weather roads in the difficult terrains of the Himalayan ranges adjacent to the LAC. However, things changed when Modi Govt in 2014 sanctioned a large numbers of infrastructure projects for the NE region in which boarder roads also formed a significant part. Long pending demands of Army’s Mountain Divs were fulfilled. The Indian Air Force too strengthen thevigil in the sky along LAC. Today, our Armed Forces are in full control of the situations there and this has been troubling the Chinese.

PM Bajpayee visit to China in 2002 restarted the process of normalisation. Talks began with both countries exchanging own maps of the middle sector, Occasional skirmishes on the ~3500 km boarder continued esp in the NE sectors. After 2014, special impetus was given to the relations with the neighbours. Both Indian and Chinese leadership tried to walk past the thorny terrains, they did walk some distance but the march forward is very slow. Despite the adverse weather, the clouds of suspicion, the two sides have been able to resolve two major incidents thathad potential to go out of control. The stand-off in Ladakh (Chumur)in Sep 2014 while the Chinese premier was in India and the later 77 days Docklam impasse in Eastern sector did resolve peacefully with thoughtful handling. There was one difference in the approach of the Indian side during these times though...the Indian Forces did not back-off...unlike the numerous times in the past. Indian Forces looked straight in to the Chinese eyes, duly reinforced for any untoward change of events. Finally, diplomacy prevailed upon. Chinese troops retreated from both the stand-off.

With the development of roads and other infrastructures after 2014, the Indian defence along boarder continued strengthening under priority. Road, Rail and air accessibility to the LAC increased at top priority. The talks on LAC disputeresolution also continued. There have been some progress in these talks too. The sticky issues are many, namely the Akshai Chin, eastern Ladakh, mid-sectors of Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Chumbi Valley-Doklam, Arunachal and finally the Mac Mohan line. Chinese are pressing for Chumbi valley settlement which is extremely critical for India because if Chinese get it, Batang La and Jhampheri ridge are within their reach. Gangtok city lights are clearly visible from this ridge. On the other hand, Chinese are unwilling to talk of mid sector and the Akshai Chin.

The usual Chinese incursions which used to be largely unnoticed and un-opposed in the past, is no longer a walk-through. Every now and then, they are intercepted. This occasionally led to scuffles. It happened in Pangong lakeareaon 05-06 May 20 and on 09 May 20 at Naku Lawhere a scuffle broke out between the two army. Now with the IAF eyes in the sky 24x7, every air space violation by the Chinese that were the rule in past, are promptly intercepted by the IAF. The Chinese are feeling such pressure because of increased Indian presence and preparedness. These small incidents although may not be necessarily a sign of any shift in their standard procedure but in the present days of media coverage, it surely heightens the public apprehension as if some conflict-type of situation has been brewing up. The expansionist agenda of the PLA are increasingly coming to the fore. PLA has built up permanent fortifications at many places on the LAC itself. These are all along the Chumur, Demchok, Moldo, Pangong, Hot Springs, Ghogra, Galwan and Depsang. There is no doubt that the border forces at the LAC in eastern Ladakh either failed to keep a strict vigil on PLA inthese areas or they only followed the benign reluctance on part of our leaderships of decades to close eyes to the happenings...of their salami slicing...of their two steps forward and a step back policies. Besides all these, the govts recent push on the border roads esp of the only Link to the Daulat Beg Oldie...the Durbuk-DBO road has apparently upset them. It was the construction of a bridge on this road which was objected to by the PLA that started the present conflagration. Obviously, the Chinese have far exceeded in the decency of observing the sanctity of the Indian territorial integrity and all these are happening despite the five Indo-Chinese agreements of ‘Peace & Tranquillity’ on the Line of Actual Control. The first two agreements of 1993 and 1996 elaborate in details the terms of troops non-engagements. The later 3 agreements are merely to find the mechanism of implementation of the agreements. However, despite 22 rounds of talks having taken place between the two govts, there is hardly any progress to be seen on the ground. It is increasingly becoming apparent now that it isan old Chinese ploy...of keeping the talk alive...of keeping the other side engaged but continue with own expansionist agenda. The same have been observed post Galwan clashes too. However, it may change now. The present govt of late is seen serving the Chinese their own medicines...of keeping them engaged in talks and occupying and deploying Indian troops in the vantage positions. This has clearly upset the Chinese. It is felt that the serious discussions to resolve the border disputes may begin soon. For the first time, the military level talks will be attended by the diplomats of the foreign affairs monitor the progress on ground after the 5-pointagenda were signed between the foreign ministers of the two nations at Moscow on 10 Sep 20. The summary of variousagreements isgiven below: -

Summary of the five Indo-Chinese bilateral agreements of peace & tranquillity:-


07 Sep 1993 agreement provides the “framework for border security between the parties until final determination is made regarding border demarcation.” Both the parties agree to keep “military forces in the areas along the line of actual control to a minimum level” and “reduce troop levels” compatible with friendly and good relations between them. They also agree to carry out confidence-building measures along the LAC control, including by providing prior notification of “military exercises of specified levels near the line of actual control permitted under this Agreement.”


29 Nov 1996 agreement allows for “military disclosure when the parties are undertaking border exercises and for the reduction of troop levels in the border areas and to observe and inspect troop movements in each other territory upon invitation.” The two sides agreed to reduce or limit their military forces within mutually-agreed geographical zones along the LAC. It specifies the major categories of armaments to be reduced or limited: “combat tanks, infantry combat vehicles, guns (including howitzers) with 75 mm or bigger calibre, mortars with 120 mm or bigger calibre, surface-to-surface missiles, surface-to-air missiles and any other weapon system mutually agreed upon.” It also stipulates that “neither side shall open fire, cause bio-degradation, use hazardous chemicals, conduct blast operations or hunt with guns or explosives within 2 Km from the line of actual control.”

2005 PROTOCOL ON IMPLEMENTATION OF CONFIDENCE-BUILDING MEASURES IN MILITARY FIELD ALONG LAC11 Apr 2005, the Protocol states that “the differences on the boundary question should not be allowed to affect the overall development of bilateral relations. The two sides will resolve the boundary question through peaceful and friendly consultations.


17 Jan 2012, the two sides agree to establish the WMCC to deal with important border affairs related to maintaining peace and tranquillity in the India-China border areas. The WMCC will be headed by a Joint Secretary level official fromthe Indian MEA and a Director General level official from the Chinese Foreign Affairs and will be composed of diplomatic and military officials of the two sides.


23 Oct 2013 agreement enumerates several mechanisms to reduce misunderstandings and improve communications between the two countries along their disputed border. Article VI explicitly prohibits one side from actively following or tailing the patrols of another side. Articles explicitly outline procedures for resolving disputes in areas where thereis no mutual understanding of the LAC.


10 Sep 2020, Moscow. The two foreign ministers signed a 5-point agenda to dis-engage the troops build-up at the LAC of (1) not allowing differences to become disputes; (2) of the border troops should continue dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions; (3) of the two sides abide by all the existing agreements and protocols on ‘peace and tranquillity’; (4) of continue communications through the Special Representatives for Consultation and Coordination and (5) after the situation eases, the two sides should expedite work to conclude new confidence-buildingmeasures to maintain and enhance peace and tranquillity inthe border areas.

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