A few weeks ago, the Chinese President, Xi Jinping had made a diplomatic visit to India. This was touted as a very important event for both sides who have been squabbling over contested areas in Northern India and have gone through a war in the past. The Event was also keenly followed by various states, who were curious as to the outcome of the meeting of the two rival Asian giants.
So what’s all the hype about this particular piece of news?
Let’s consider this- the two leaders, Mr Xi and Mr Modi seem very comfortable in with each other, in deep conversation while strolling on the banks of Sabarmati. The 3 day visit went past so quickly, with the Chinese delegation promising various joint business deals which would amount to an investment of about $ 35 billion with respect to various development project like railways, education, twinning of cities etc. In the background, at the desolate terrains of the Chumar district in Ladakh, the Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) were facing each other at the Chumar district in Ladakh following yet another incursion into Indian Territory. However, as of now, i.e. on 26th September, China claimed that the border standoff has been “managed and controlled” through diplomatic means.
Naturally, I would like to start from the border issue between the two neighbours.
One of the disputed areas is Aksai Chin. India claims this territory to be a part of the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir, while China claims it to be a part of the Xinchiang Autonomous Province. The dispute dates back to the days of colonial powers and Maharajas. An attempt to demarcate the border was made in 1865 by one W.H. Johnson who was a civil servant with the Survey of India. But this was never accepted by the Chinese. It was also severely criticised by the British Government. Subsequent attempts were also discarded and challenged by either country. One of these attempts which is now accepted by the Chinese, was the Macartney- McDonald Line which puts Aksai Chin in China.
Post-independence, India’s stand is that it accepts the Johnson Line with some exceptions, but this includes the Aksai Chin territory. Prime Minister Nehru, was of the opinion that Aksai Chin has been “Indian territory for centuries” and that this northern border was non-negotiable. The Chinese argued that the western border with India was never settled and that Aksai Chin has been under Chinese jurisdiction. Thus, no agreement was reached between India and China with respect to Aksai Chin. In 1958, India discovered that the Chinese had built a 1,200 km road in the Aksai Chin region connecting two crucial Chinese territories, Tibet and Xinjiang. This was one amongst the many events that led to the harsh 1962 Indo- China war. Other issues that led to the war, was the border dispute regarding the McMahon Line separating Arunachal Pradesh from China (refer Figure below). Yet another event which added fuel to the fire was the annexation of Tibet by China in 1951 and the subsequent grant of asylum by India to the Tibetan religious Chief, the 14th Dalai Lama. The Chinese perceived this to be a pre cursor to Indian expansionist plans in Tibet.
The war ended with President Zhou’s unilateral cease fire declaration of 1962. He declared that the Chinese army would withdraw to positions 20 kilometres behind the “line of actual control” which existed between China and India on 7 November 1959. The question that arose then, was that, what exactly was the “line of actual control” (LAC). The Chinese accept the Macartney-McDonald Line to be the LAC while India holds on to the Johnson Line. However, in 1993, a step forward was taken when the countries signed the Agreement on Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas. In 1994, bilateral talks were held to adopt combined defence measures. In fact, in 1995, both parties has destroyed the guard posts in close proximity to each other in various disputed areas and it was heralded as a beginning of new era of stable Indo- China relations.
In 1996, another agreement on the Confidence Building Measure in the Military Field along the line of Actual Control in the China- India Border Areas was entered into. In 2005, the two countries met yet again to discuss and negotiate the border dispute and the result was the adoption of the Agreement on “Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of India-China Boundary Question”. This agreement was considered as the first stage in the process, which would be followed by an understanding on the nature of the mutual territorial concessions in the second stage and finally, the actual delineation of the new border line on the map and demarcation of the boundary on the ground would take place. But, what is disappointing is that there has been no progress with respect to this issue. The unsettled border dispute has several repercussions. Mainly, what one side considers to be a normal border patrol, is seen as an illegal incursion by the other. Even now, every year, there are several Chinese incursions that happen in the Ladakh region and north east.
These border disputes have always clouded and thwarted any attempt by either nation to take their relation a step forward. Even during the recent Chinese President’s visit, border issues were one of the main points of discussion on PM Modi’s agenda which, otherwise, included joint economic development. But, as always, the Chinese response was lax and non-committal. It is high time that both parties sit together and work out a proper LoAC, so that both countries can move forward to an era of stable diplomatic ties.
There’s something else that India must be wary of the Dragon Nation. China has been increasingly showing interest in the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean region. Before he landed in Ahmedabad, the Chinese President had made two pit stops at Maldives and Sri Lanka. Xi Jinping also has a vision of building a Maritime Silk Route. He has already signed an agreement in this regard with Sri Lanka. But, India has been non-committal in this regard citing security concerns in the Indian Ocean region. Let’s wait and watch if Mr Modi has the power to change the stagnant nature of this issue and realise the dream of “Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai” in the true sense of the phrase.
About the Author
Meera is currently pursuing her final year of law at National University of Advanced Legal Studies, Kochi. Her core areas of interest are international law and maritime law and she wishes to pursue the same in the future. She loves mooting and dreams of representing her country at the World Court someday. When she isn’t dreaming, she likes to read, play volleyball, travel and meet new people.