Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

India- China disengage at LAC friction points in Ladakh


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: LAC

Mains level: India-China border issues


India and China have announced that their Armies have begun to disengage from Patrolling Point-15 in the Gogra-Hot springs area at LAC.

What is LAC- the Line of Actual Control?

  • The LAC is the demarcation that separates Indian-controlled territory from Chinese-controlled territory.
  • India considers the LAC to be 3,488 km long, while the Chinese consider it to be only around 2,000 km.
  • It is divided into three sectors: the eastern sector which spans Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, the middle sector in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, and the western sector in Ladakh.
  • The LAC is only a concept – it is not agreed upon by the two countries, neither delineated on a map nor demarcated on the ground.

What is the disagreement?

  • The alignment of the LAC in the eastern sector is along the 1914 McMahon Line, and there are minor disputes about the positions on the ground as per the principle of the high Himalayan watershed.
  • The major disagreements are in the western sector where the LAC emerged from two letters written by Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai to PM Jawaharlal Nehru in 1959, after he had first mentioned such a ‘line’ in 1956.

When did India accept the LAC?

  • The LAC was discussed during Chinese Premier Li Peng’s 1991 visit to India, where PM P V Narasimha Rao and Li reached an understanding to maintain peace and tranquillity at the LAC.
  • India formally accepted the concept of the LAC when Rao paid a return visit to Beijing in 1993 and the two sides signed the Agreement to Maintain Peace and Tranquillity at the LAC.
  • The reference to the LAC was unqualified to make it clear that it was not referring to the LAC of 1959 or 1962 but to the ‘LAC’ at the time when the agreement was signed.
  • To reconcile the differences about some areas, the two countries agreed that the Joint Working Group on the border issue would take up the task of clarifying the alignment of the LAC.

How was the disengagement carried on?

  • As per the understanding reached earlier on disengagement, a buffer zone is to be created at the friction points.
  • Once troops are withdrawn by both sides, new patrolling norms are to be worked out after complete disengagement and de-escalation.

Why sudden disengagement?

  • The move comes ahead of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Uzbekistan next week.
  • However, neither side has, so far, confirmed if the two leaders would hold bilateral talks on the sidelines of the summit.
  • The leaders have not spoken to each other since a November 2019 meeting during the BRICS Summit in Brasilia and the beginning of the stand-off in April 2020.

Significance of the disengagement

  • Since the stand-off began in May 2020, the two sides have so far held 16 rounds of talks.
  • Earlier, disengagement was undertaken from both sides of Pangong Tso in February 2021, and from PP-17 in the Gogra-Hot springs area in August, in addition to Galwan in 2020 after the violent clash.
  • The friction points that remain now are Demchok and Depsang, which China has constantly refused to accept, maintaining that they are not a part of the current stand-off.

What was the dispute over LAC?

  • In what was the worst clash between the two countries in over 40 years, the Galwan incident reverberated around the world.
  • The casualties in the clash were the first in the disputed Sino-Indian border since 1975.
  • The Galwan episode led to a rapid build-up of forces on both sides of the Line of Actual Control.
  • This incident is being seen as major punctuation in the bilateral relations between India and China and what does the future hold for both neighbors.

Why did India change its stance on the Line of Actual Control?

  • Indian and Chinese patrols were coming in more frequent contact during the mid-1980s.
  • This was after the government formed a China Study Group in 1976 which revised the patrolling limits, rules of engagement and pattern of Indian presence along the border.

Is the LAC also the claim line for both countries?

  • Not for India. India’s claim line is the line seen in the official boundary marked on the maps as released by the Survey of India, including both Aksai Chin and Gilgit-Baltistan.
  • In China’s case, it corresponds mostly to its claim line, but in the eastern sector, it claims entire Arunachal Pradesh as South Tibet.
  • However, the claim lines come into question when a discussion on the final international boundaries takes place, and not when the conversation is about a working border, say the LAC.

Why are these claim lines controversial in Ladakh?

  • When the Shimla Agreement on the McMahon Line was signed by British India, Aksai Chin in Ladakh province of the princely state of J&K was not part of British India, although it was a part of the British Empire.
  • Thus, the eastern boundary was well defined in 1914 but in the west in Ladakh, it was not.
  • India, in July 1948, had two maps: one had no boundary shown in the western sector, only a partial colour wash; the second one extended the colour wash in yellow to the entire state of J&K, but mentioned “boundary undefined”.

Way forward

  • The impasse in India-China relations CANNOT be overcome by more talks through diplomatic and military channels, and possibly require the intervention of the top leadership of both countries.
  • Therefore, as Dr. Jaishankar put it, the management of the fissures within Asia will require adherence to established laws, norms, and rules.


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