This summer’s experience with the Chinese on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has firmed up the view in the Army that the only way to prevent more such incidents in the future is to have an early delineation of the disputed Sino-Indian boundary.
Sources told The Indian Express that besides Ladakh, the Chinese have been pushing forward in many areas of east Sikkim and in Dibang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh where they refuse to abide by the ‘watershed principle’ for the LAC.
The reasons for the aggressive Chinese behaviour this year are still not clear, sources said, and could be a combination of factors.
“The big lesson from Ladakh is that we have to stand up to China and be prepared at all times. Such incidents can certainly happen again and the only way to prevent that is by having the two countries agree on a common border, with both armies adhering to a properly delineated LAC just as it is (on the LoC) with Pakistan,” a top official in the security establishment said.
“The LAC is the basis of peace on the border, and unless both the governments clarify the LAC at the earliest and exchange maps with the line delineated, another Galwan can always happen,” said the official, highlighting the high degree of mistrust between the two sides after the loss of lives in a violent clash at Galwan Valley on June 15.
It is learnt that this view has been conveyed to the government, which has itself advocated early finalisation of the LAC in its talks with the Chinese government.
There have been 22 rounds of talks between Special Representatives of both governments for settlement of the boundary dispute.
During his visit to Beijing in 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed that both sides clarify the actual positions on the LAC. But it was rejected by the Chinese side which had then said that it prefers an agreement with India on a Code of Conduct to maintain peace along the border.
There is another view within the government which argues that focusing on clarifying the LAC is a futile quest because China will not finalise the LAC since ambiguity about the lay of the border serves its purpose as the stronger power.
This section argues for greater capability development of the Army, which has suffered in recent years due to shortage of funds for modernisation, and streamlining command and control issues between the Army and ITBP on the LAC.
While both India and China use the term LAC, no common line has been agreed upon by the two countries or delineated on maps. China often talks of the 1959 LAC, while the alignment of the Indian LAC has not been made public although it is marked on military maps of border areas. The LoC with Pakistan, in contrast, emerged from the 1948 ceasefire line negotiated by the UN after the Kashmir War, and is delineated on a map signed by DGMOs of both armies in 1972.
India did not accept the legal validity of the LAC till 1993 when both countries signed the Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas during Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao’s visit to Beijing. The LAC was left undefined in the agreement, stating that “the experts shall advise the Joint Working Group
on the resolution of differences between the two sides on the alignment of the line of actual control”.
The last clarification of the LAC occurred in 2002 when the Indian and Chinese sides shared the maps of their respective LACs in the western sector pertaining to Ladakh. The Chinese delegation refused to accept the map, and the maps were not formally exchanged. The process was thus stalled with only the maps of the LAC in the middle sector, pertaining to Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, being formally exchanged between the two sides in 2001.
Even though Para 6 of the 1993 Agreement states that the “two sides agree that references to the line of actual control in this Agreement do not prejudice their respective positions on the boundary question,” the Chinese argued that fixing the LAC through exchange of maps with exaggerated claims would make it the international boundary.