India-China Border Dispute

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The border issue between India and China includes Aksai Chin on westernmost side of border and McMahon line / Arunachal Pradesh on easternmost side.


In 1950, the Survey of India had issued a map of India which showed India’s political divisions. In this map, the border of Pakistan was shown with Gilgit-Baltistan as part of India and Indo-China border as McMahon line except in the eastern extremity where the Tirap subdivision of present Arunachal Pradesh was shown as “undefined”. In the Central sector of what is now Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh and the eastern part of Jammu & Kashmir, including Aksai Chin, the boundary was depicted in this map as a colour wash and denoted as “boundary undefined.”

The McMahon line is practically a psychological border between India and China. It was drawn up by British India and Manchu China, but its subsequent repudiation by China made it the major irritant. The drawing of the McMahon Line was a bit of British mischief that shaved off parts of Tibet and present-day Pakistan, and included them in British India in order to create buffer zones.

Negotiated at the Indian town of Shimla in 1914, the McMahon Line was apparently an egregious exercise in imperial cartography, defining the border only with a thick red line on a map without reference to the usual local landmarks employed to demarcate a border. No Chinese government has accepted the McMahon Line as the proper demarcation of the border. India, however, has embraced it.

In 1954, as per a decision taken by Union Cabinet, the Survey of India issued a new map, unilaterally defining the Indo-Chinese border, whereby the colour wash was replaced by a line. This is the new map which we see in Indian Official maps today. By this, all the old maps were withdrawn.

China had a map that claimed in parts of Indian territories south of McMahon line in current Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin. The Chinese claims on areas south of the McMahon Line were based on their perceptions of traditional boundaries. India claimed that the Chinese boundaries in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh have no written basis and no documentation of acceptance by anyone apart from China.

Out of these two disputed regions, the strategic importance of Aksai Chin for China was of great value. Though it is an uninhabited high-altitude desert, it was essential to Chinese control of western Tibet and very important to its control of all of Tibet. Thus, on Aksai Chin, while the Indian claims were legalistic and nationalistic in nature, the Chinese claims had geopolitical imperatives.

For the above mentioned reason, China entered the Aksai Chin and built a road and expanded westward to ensure that road was secure. When India woke up, it was already too late to carry out its so called “Forward Policy”. The Chinese attack in 1962 resulted in further advancement of Chinese westwards.

Current Status of Border Dispute

Currently, China is in occupation of approximately 38,000 Km² of Indian Territory in Aksai Chin. Moreover, under China-Pakistan “Boundary Agreement” of 1963, Pakistan ceded 5,180 Km² of Indian territories in PoK to China. China claims approximately 90,000 Km² of Indian territories in Arunachal Pradesh. China says that it does not recognize Arunachal Pradesh and considers it as a part of South Tibet. The border between China and India has never been officially delimited. China’s position on the eastern part of the border between the two countries is consistent.  None of the successive governments in China have recognized the McMahon Line.

Current Paradigm

After the 1962 war, the Line of Actual Control (LAC) came into being, which includes a 19 kilometre thick border line. In all the post 1962 years, the established pattern is that China keeps nibbling the Indian Territory to create new facts on ground with relation to their claimed Line of Actual Control. They first occupy an area, then assert that it was theirs and then offer to negotiate. By this process, the aftermath of 1962 saw only further Chinese advance westward which led to almost the entire Galwan River area coming under the Chinese control. It’s worth note that since 1956, entire Chip Chap and Galwan river valleys were accepted by China as being Indian Territory. But in 1960 China insisted that these areas were within their claim line and occupied them following the 1962 war. The April 2013 the Daulat Beg Oldi incident was one more such event of pushing even further westward.

Resolving Border Disputes

After the 1962 war, the diplomatic ties between India and China were re-established in 1976. In 1988, Rajiv Gandhi visited China and the two countries agreed to set up a joint working group to settle the boundary issue.  In 1990s, China and India signed two critical agreements on “Maintaining of Peace and Tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas” in 1993 and “Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field along the Line of Actual Control in India-China Border Areas” in 1996. In 2003, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited China to strengthen relations. In 2006, the two countries re-opened the Nathu La pass for bilateral trade. In 2013, the Chinese encroachment in the Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) sector occurred which was solved by diplomatic process. In the aftermath of this intrusion, a BDCA (Border Defence Cooperation Agreement). This agreement rests on the premise that one side will not follow or tail patrols of the other side in border areas where there is no common understanding. Thus, Indian side has to physically monitor the entire LAC and without leaving any gaps. This has put pressure on manpower, annual defence spending and military modernisation. PLA vacated Depsang only when New Delhi agreed to sign the BDCA. India has now reduced its patrolling limit in Depsang which has resulted in a new de facto LAC

Thus so far, PLA breaches LAC at will, followed by Indian acceptance of LAC. Although both sides have broadened the agenda by shifting from resolving to manage the border, China has always objected to Indian enhancement of infrastructure or military capabilities along LAC. BDCA mandates that “Each side will keep military forces by principle of mutual and equal security to the ceilings to be mutually agreed” which means India cannot empower or increase its military capacity along the LAC without China’s consent.

Issues in Indian Approach of Border Security

There are several issues with the Indian approach of securing the Chinese Border. Firstly, apart from getting a status of de facto nuclear state, India has been complacent in modernization of its military. Only recently, Indian government started pushing through a massive modernization program. On the contrary, China continuously upgraded its military and built military infrastructure in Tibet and elsewhere. Secondly, the Line of Actual Control is being manned by Indo-Tibetan Border Police. ITPB comes under Ministry of Home Affairs and not the Indian Army or its operational control. The problem with this arrangement is that when any issue of Chinese incursion occurs, it becomes difficult whom would ITPB report because it can not report to Ministry of Defense. Thus, the situation on ground can become chaotic. The dual control of critical forces is a great mistake and once can clearly see the ambiguities and vagueness in such control. Thirdly, given the strategic position of some sectors in north such as Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO), India has managed to build very limited road connectivity and other infrastructural facilities in Border areas in sharp contrast with China. Our soldiers have been deployed at harsh locations without proper road communication. Indian soldiers are guarding the country’s border under deplorable infrastructure and pitiable quality of life at our own peril. Fourthly, two mountain divisions were raised for operations in the mountains. But the government decided that there was no need for a Corps HQ. Currently, the weapons and equipments with these mountain divisions and their operational preparedness is not up to the mark.

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