Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

Explained: Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement (BPTA)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: BPTA

Mains level: India-China Border disputes


Central Idea

  • India and China, historical adversaries who fought a war in 1962, reached their first-ever border agreement, known as the Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement (BPTA), in 1993, following years of border disputes.
  • The BPTA aimed to maintain peace along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and reduce the risk of unplanned confrontations.

Why discuss this?

  • Thirty years later, the legacy of this historic agreement is continued by contested interpretations and unfulfilled commitments, while the ongoing border crisis further highlights the challenges both nations face in reaching a resolution.

BPTA: A Historic Yet Contested Agreement

  • Context: The BPTA was negotiated in the aftermath of the Sumdorong Chu standoff, marking a significant diplomatic achievement in the early 1990s.
  • Signing: The agreement was signed in 1993 during the tenure of PV Narasimha Rao as PM.
  • Peaceful Coexistence: The agreement committed both nations to avoid using or threatening force against each other. It emphasized strict adherence to the LAC and mutual reduction of military forces to maintain friendly relations.
  • Legacy: While it played a crucial role in maintaining peace for nearly two decades, the BPTA also spurred infrastructure development and frequent incidents, ultimately leading to the Galwan clash in 2020.

Ambiguity Surrounding the LAC

  • Inherent Ambiguity: The primary issue undermining border agreements is the inherent ambiguity surrounding the LAC, which was embedded in the BPTA.
  • LAC Problem: India’s discomfort with the term “LAC” proposed by China in 1959 remained a contentious issue.
  • Ambiguous Formulation: The BPTA allowed both sides to clarify the LAC wherever necessary, implying a lack of shared perception about the 1959 LAC.
  • Compromised Clarity: This formulation didn’t definitively reject China’s version of the LAC but aimed to prevent constant confrontation.

Impact on Subsequent Agreements

  • Positive Developments: The BPTA paved the way for additional agreements, such as confidence-building measures in the Military Field along the LAC (1996) and the appointment of Special Representatives (2003).
  • Unfinished Business: Negotiations for a final boundary settlement stalled, and the mechanisms to clarify LAC claims remained incomplete.

Infrastructure Development and Tensions

  • Race for Facts on the Ground: Ambiguity over the LAC drove both countries to strengthen their claims through infrastructure development and increased patrols.
  • Frequent Encounters: Frequent encounters between patrols exacerbated tensions along the border.
  • Unforeseen Consequences: The BPTA inadvertently contributed to a slowdown in boundary negotiations, as both sides aimed to bolster their positions along the LAC.

The Current Crisis

  • Blatant Disregard: The ongoing crisis, beginning in 2020, saw both nations cast aside the commitments made in the first article of the BPTA.
  • Stalled Boundary Negotiations: Amidst the crisis, efforts to settle the boundary dispute have almost completely stalled.
  • A Challenging Relationship: The 30-year-old border remains unsettled, mirroring the broader complexities of the India-China relationship.


  • The BPTA reached 30 years ago, marked a significant milestone in India-China relations.
  • However, its legacy remains deeply contested and fraught with ambiguities.
  • As the ongoing border crisis unfolds, the challenges in achieving a lasting resolution and fostering peaceful coexistence between the two nations persist.

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