China and India’s Tense Border Conflict Starts Cooling Down For Now

border

Chinese and Indian troops stationed at various points in the Line of Actual Control (LAC) reportedly started to move back from the position this week, sparking hopes of de-escalation for the long-contested border.

Formed after the Sino-Indian War in 1962, the LAC — one of the world’s longest land borders — serves as a demarcation separating China and India in the Himalayas.

While the line has long been disputed, the area has generally been peaceful until early May, when Chinese troops allegedly crossed their side of the fence into Indian territory.

Since then, there have been reports of clashes in the area, resulting in injuries on both sides.

The dispute arises from a difference in the states’ designations of the border, which splits into the eastern, middle, and western sectors.

The eastern sector, about 90,000 square kilometers (about 35,000 square miles), is under Indian control; the western sector, about 33,000 square kilometers (about 13,000 square miles), is under Chinese control; and the middle sector, around 2,000 square kilometers (around 770 square miles), has divided control.

In 1959, Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai sent a letter to Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, which defined the LAC as “the so-called McMahon Line in the east and the line up to which each side exercises control in the west.” 

After the war, the Chinese side claimed that it had withdrawn to 20 kilometers (12 miles) behind the 1959 LAC and provided a more detailed designation: “To put it concretely, in the eastern sector it coincides in the main with the so-called McMahon Line, and in the western and middle sectors it coincides in the main with the traditional customary line which has consistently been pointed out by China.”

A 2013 map showing Chinese and Indian claims in the western sector of the LAC. Image via The Discoverer (CC BY-SA 3.0)

India rejected both designations of the LAC until 1993 when Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao visited Beijing and signed an Agreement to Maintain Peace and Tranquility in the demarcation. However, the paper only acknowledged the LAC at the time of signing, rendering earlier designations void.

Disagreements have since persisted. To date, both countries have only exchanged maps for the middle sector, while those for the western sector were reportedly “shared” but not formally exchanged.

The process of clarifying the LAC has stalled since 2002. The last standoff, which ran for over 70 days, took place in 2017 at the Doklam plateau, an area claimed by China and Indian-allied Bhutan.

China’s actions in early May appeared to be in response to India’s road-building activities in the western sector, according to an analysis by the Washington Post. While the area is under Indian control, China may have interpreted it as an attempt to change the LAC’s status quo.

 

On Saturday, Chinese state broadcaster Global Times aired footage of paratroopers, armored vehicles and equipment being transported to an unspecified location. Meanwhile, officials from both sides held talks in the outpost of Maldo on the Chinese side, NDTV noted.

The Indian Foreign Ministry stated on Sunday that “A meeting was held between the Corps Commander based in Leh and the Chinese Commander on 6 June 2020 in the Chushul-Moldo region.”

“It took place in a cordial and positive atmosphere,” it continued. “Both sides agreed to peacefully resolve the situation in the border areas in accordance with various bilateral agreements and keeping in view the agreements between the leaders that peace and tranquillity in the India-China border regions is essential for the overall development of bilateral relations.”

“We have reached one consensus — that both sides have to carry out the previous consensus made by the top leadership so as to avoid escalating a disagreement into a dispute,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Monday, according to the South China Morning Post. “We have to make efforts to maintain stability and peace in our border regions and create a healthy atmosphere for our bilateral relations to develop.”

By Tuesday, signs of de-escalation have reportedly become visible. The full disengagement process is expected to take weeks, however.

“We note the developments along the LAC, and will be monitoring them closely in the next few days,” government sources said, according to the Indian Express. “Physical verification as well as satellite imagery will help us in complete disengagement.”

Feature Image via Getty

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