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The second strategic dialogue on the ‘Rise of China and its implications for the world’ was organised by Savitribai Pune University and the New Delhi-based Centre For China Analysis. While addressing the forum on 28 Mar 2023, General Manoj Pande, Chief of the Army Staff, said, “Chinese Transgressions across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) remain a potential trigger for escalations, and violation of existing border agreements and protocols by our neighbour remains a concern for India”. He further said that this marks a policy shift in border management in India concerning China. This forced policy shift was remarked as a ‘peer competitor’ by Gen Bikram Singh (Retd) in 2012 and continues even today. The statement of General Manoj Pandey, COAS, indicates directly or indirectly the situation prevailing at the LAC.
India and China share a 3,488 km long border and have long-standing border issues throughout the stretches in different regions, such as the eastern, middle and western sectors. While in the Eastern Sector China claims large portions of Arunachal Pradesh, an integral part of India, on the western side Beijing lays claim to the Aksai Chin, an essential part of Ladakh UT.
Indian territory under occupation by China since 1962 in the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir amounts to about 38,000 sq. km. In addition, under the so-called China-Pakistan ‘Boundary Agreement’ of 1963, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 sq. km. of Indian territory in Pakistan Occupied Jammu Kashmir (POJK) to China. In the eastern sector, China illegitimately claims approximately 90,000 sq. km. of Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh.
China disputes the existing border between India and China. The LAC between the two countries is not demarcated. Both sides patrol up to their corresponding perceptions of LAC. Chinese patrolling up to their perception of LAC are treated by India as transgressions. Such incidents of violations are taken up with the Chinese side through established mechanisms such as Hot Lines, Flag Meetings, Border Personnel Meetings and the newly established Working Mechanism on Consultation and Coordination on India-China border affairs.
Transgressions by our adversary and border clashes. The border disagreement was first exploited by China in 1962 when it invaded India, tried to change the border unilaterally and has occupied the Indian territory of Aksai Chin in the Ladakh region since then. In 1967, China again transgressed into the Indian side of the LAC in Nathu La and Cho La, but that time China got a bloody nose. Again in 1975, border clashes took place in the area of Tulung La. In 1987 it was Sumdorang Valley; in 2014, border clashes occurred in Demchok, in 2017 the Doklam crisis took place. And in 2020, it was Galwan where China tried to ingress into our area. The latest occurrence took place in Feb 2023 in Yagste, Arunachal Pradesh.
China’s strategy to build infrastructure in the disputed areas has rightly been described as ‘Salami Slicing’, which entails making small and incremental encroachments in territories along the LAC without escalating into war. This is done to achieve strategic advantage and claim the encroached areas when border discussions occur. The same policy China adopted in the South China Sea, wherein China has successfully expanded its territory without much pushback from ASEAN countries except Vietnam.
The recent border clashes and stand-offs between India and China have brought the legacy of past border transgressions and stand-offs to the forefront. The issue of border disputes is embedded in the legacy of LAC, which remains undefined and unsettled. The seeds of such disagreements were sown immediately after the occupation of Tibet by China in 1959. Though India accepted Tibet as an autonomous region of China fears of ingress by China along the border continue even today.
India and China have reached specific agreements and protocols to avoid further escalations at the border. If adhered to properly, then peace and tranquillity could be maintained, which is essential for both countries. To find the solutions, it is necessary to look into these agreements and protocols sincerely.
- The agreement on preserving Peace and Tranquility along the LAC in the border areas, 07 Sep 1993. This is a watershed agreement reached between India and China.
- Agreement between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of China on Confidence-Building Measures in the military field along the LAC in the India-China Border Areas, 29 Nov 1996.
- Declaration on Principles for Relations and Comprehensive Cooperation between India and China, 23 Jun 2003.
- Protocol between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the modalities for implementing Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas of 11 Apr 2005.
- Agreement between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question, 11 Apr 2005.
- India and China agreed to establish a Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs on 17 Jan 2012.
- The bilateral agreement between the Governments of India and China on Border Defence Cooperation, 23 Oct 2013.
Though these agreements and protocols are enough to maintain an atmosphere of peace and stability, yet concern remains as China has indulged in violations of these agreements and carried out transgressions across the LAC. China has also developed a robust infrastructure along the border to be able to rapidly mobilise men, materials and resources.
To counter all these moves the Indian Army is developing strategic orientation and long-term development of capabilities along the LAC. This defence preparedness also includes re-balancing forces and maintaining reserves to give the desired response as and when required. The Indian Army’s preparedness remains very high despite the inclement weather conditions and terrain. The Indian soldiers are ready to deal with the PLA in a robust, unyielding, but restrained manner. The challenge before the Indian Army is to equip, organise and train its troops and evolve a technique to blunt every action of our adversary.
Transgressions on LAC have the potential to lead to military escalation. Relations between India and China have worsened due to Chinese transgressions on the LAC. This has led India to change its policy to manage the border with China. LAC is not defined on the ground, and to maintain peace and tranquillity, both countries have mechanisms in place. These agreements and protocols are the guidelines for reaching permanent solutions to border disputes if desired. The LAC needs to be respected, and differences should be resolved bilaterally rather than unilaterally.