In what can be described as a move that has the potential of changing the nature and character of Sino-India relations, an ET report has stated that PM Modi is understood to have conveyed to the Chinese President Xi Jinping that both the countries should work towards clarification of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the effective border between the two Asian powers in the absence of mutually agreed boundary between the two countries. The two leaders interacted with each other during the second informal summit between the two leaders that was held at Mamallapuram, a historic city which epitomises the historic relations between India and China.
An unsettled international border remains one of the most contentious issues standing in the way of strengthened Sino-Indian relations and China has waged war on India in the past taking advantage of unsettled borders. Indian and Chinese forces continue to have face-offs along the LAC. PM Modi has asserted that clarification of LAC is a sine qua non of improved ties.
The LAC serves as the de facto border between the two countries, but it has greatly inhibited closer ties between the two countries primarily because of the differences in perceptions held by the two countries regarding the LAC. The border dispute between the two countries is more than five decades old. Although no major military conflict has taken place since the 1962 and the 1967 war that China had initiated with India, tensions, transgressions and face offs arising in the absence of a de jure boundary between the two countries have not been a rarity.
What China had offered was an ‘early harvest’ deal on the less disputed of the three sectors of the LAC. India, however, has boldly reiterated its stand over a deal encompassing the entire LAC, once and for all, a demand that China, which believes in wielding military power for expansionist motives, shall have discomfort catering to.
India’s insistence on a complete deal on the boundary differences between the two countries shows that India has made it clear that China is mandated to clear the air around the LAC and it shall be the precursor to a marked improvement in bilateral ties between the two Asian powers.
An initiative on the LAC has to come from China, because the trust deficit not allowing the bilateral relations between the two countries to achieve their true potential, has largely been on account of China’s expansionist motive. The 1962 war had been waged by China and thereafter China’s expansionist motive vis-a-vis India and elsewhere had been an obstacle in the betterment of relations between the two countries.
China’s occupation of Aksai Chin, a 38,000 sq. km territory in the Ladakh region of India is a living example of its expansionist tendencies. It is further displayed by the longstanding dispute between the two countries, is China’s Arunachal stand. China describes the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, as ‘South Tibet’. China’s expansionist motives at both the Eastern and Western sectors of the LAC have been at the root of the border dispute between the two countries.
What is a further cause of concern for New Delhi is the frequent transgressions from the Chinese. Only last month, the Indian and Chinese soldiers were involved in a faceoff at the Ladakh border. A source quoted by TOI had said, “Indian soldiers were on a patrol when they were confronted by People’s Liberation Army soldiers, who strongly objected to their presence in the area. This led to a scuffle between the rival soldiers, with both sides sending some reinforcements to the area… the face-off was in progress at the site till the evening.”
China’s expansionist tendencies militate against India’s territorial interests. The Modi regime however clearly saw an opportunity in the Mamallapuram Summit to push for clarification of the LAC between the two countries. It must be noted that India enjoyed an upper hand in diplomatic negotiations particularly because of the events leading up to the Summit.
After India’s move of abrogating Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, into Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir, effective from October 31, China had launched a tirade against India. China’s sharp reaction following India’s move and Beijing’s decision to raise the issue at the UNSC, gave the impression that it was in line with the Sino-Pak relations.
In reality China was pursuing what it sees as its own interests in Kashmir. As stated earlier, it holds a part of India’s Ladakh territory (Aksai Chin) spread over 38,000 sq. km. It also occupies 5,180 kilometres of Indian territory in the form of the Trans-Karokaram Tract Pakistan Occupied Kashmir that came into its possession by virtue of a 1963 agreement with Pakistan. It sees itself as a major stakeholder in Kashmir which explains its attempts to internationalise the issue along with Pakistan.
However, this also means that the consequential failure to internationalise the Kashmir issue was not just a failure on Pakistan’s part but also on China’s part even as it was agreed by almost the entire community of nations that Jammu & Kashmir is indeed an internal matter of India. India steered clear out of the outrage manufactured by Pakistan and China. The entire episode gave India a definite upper hand over China and in such a situation, the Modi government has given a loud and clear signal to China.
Moreover, China also came into this summit having witnessed a number of economic and geo-political setbacks as well- the trade war with the USA and the backlash faced by the Chinese regime for it’s crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters and the blatant human rights violations of Uyghurs.
India, on the other hand enjoys a really comfortable relation with most of the global superpowers. Indications of India enjoying an upper hand in bilateral negotiations came with China’s softened stance on Kashmir, even as the Dragon made it clear that it sees Kashmir as a “bilateral issue” between India and Pakistan, in a major snub to the terrorist country ahead of the informal summit between PM Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Another major change came with Indian Army’s biggest ever mountain combat exercise in Arunachal Pradesh, titled ‘Him Vijay’, at a distance of 100 km from the LAC, right ahead of the informal summit at Mamallapuram. India had also carried out a rare integrated military exercise in eastern Ladakh last month, days after a face-off between Indian and Chinese soldiers mentioned earlier.
India has therefore also been very assertive at the border and has given a clear signal that it is not going to cower down to Chinese threats and expansionist bullying. Thus, India enjoyed a higher position of power at the negotiating table and PM Modi seems to have made full use of that position by asserting that it is time to talk about the contentious Line of Actual Control.