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Since early May 2020, India and China have again engaged in a military standoff. This time, the centre of the army tension is in Pangong Tso, Ladakh. The Chinese government has objected to the improvement of infrastructure by India in the Galwan River valley area. India has been building roads in this region, and the Chinese military thinks this to be a step in India attacking China. Both countries have deployed extra military force on the Indio-China border to tackle if the situation gets worse.
Military-level talks were held at the Chushul-Moldo region on June 10. The meeting was to discuss a plan to reduce the number of troops deployed on the border by both nations. The Indian defence minister, Rajnath Singh, has stated that these military-level talks with china were ‘positive,’ and both countries have discussed plans to withdraw their troops from the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
Both the Asian nations have engaged in a border dispute from the Twentieth century over the sovereign control of Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh, and Sikkim. The boundary between India and China is ambiguous in many places, causing the dispute. British India and China agreed upon the Johnson line in 1865. This line puts the Aksai Chin area under Jammu and Kashmir, India. The Chinese denied following this line after Xinjiang became a part of China. China claimed the Aksai Chin area as its own. India continued to follow the Johnson line till its independence. In 1954, Nehru decided to establish a well-marked border between India and China.
For the border on the east, a conference was held in 1913-14 between British India, China, and Tibet called the Shimla conference. Henry McMohan drew a boundary between Tibet and India, which is known as the McMohan Line. China disagreed on the more-detailed boundary line, and India and Tibet signed the border without China. China argued that Tibet is not an independent state and thus lacks powers to enter into a treaty. India justified this line based on the position of Himalayas, and these regions were heavily influenced by India. China wanted to acquire Indian areas in Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh, and Tibet because the dynasty that ruled China once had control over these areas.
Facts of the issue
China builds roads connecting Tibet to its Xinjiang province in the 1950s, and part of the road went through Aksai Chin, which was Indian territory. India came to know about this issue in 1957. Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India, argued that the Aksai Chin is a part of India as per the Johnson Line, and he explained that it had remained with India for a long time, thus giving China no right to build anything in the area. The Chinese side argued that Aksai Chin was a part of China under the Macartney-MacDonald Line. Officials from both sides met and held talks to resolve the issue. The two countries failed to reach a unanimous conclusion.
China won the 1662 Indo-China war held at Aksai Chin and Assam frontiers. China had more strength and weapons than India, then. The major causes of the war included disputes about the border between the two nations and the fact that conflicts between India and China when India gave refuge to Tibetan Dalai Lama in 1959.
Chinese forces launched a dual attack on India in 1967. The first attack at Nathu La pass in September 1967, and the second one at Cho La pass in October of the same year. India fought the opponent’s forces and emerged victorious and managed to protect its territory from falling into the hands of the enemy.
Line of Actual Control (LAC)
In 1993, India adopted the LAC. It is a line which roughly demarcates the area controlled by the Indian government and Indian are under the Chinese control. China extended its power during the 1962 war to the Aksai Chin and Gilgit Baltic regions of Jammu and Kashmir, India. In 2015, during his visit to China, PM Narendra Modi urged the Chinese government to clarify the LAC. The proposal was rejected by China.
Both countries continued to engage in military standoffs during this period. China kept invading India beyond LAC. This led to tensions between the militaries of both countries, but troops of both nations always withdrew back before anything escalated. China also opposed the development of Indian territory close to LAC.
Doklam Standoff of 2017
This standoff close to the Doka La pass has been the most prolonged standoff between both the nations. The dispute emerged as China started building a road in Doklam, a region considered to be disputed by India and Bhutan. Under an agreement between China and Bhutan, both countries were required to maintain the status quo in the area. The Chinese authorities claimed that India had obstructed a road being built on the Chinese territory. India defended itself, stating that both countries have to maintain the status quo as per the agreement. This dispute continued from June 16 to August 28, when both the countries decided to call back their troops.
The international law in border disputes sates that countries involved in the conflict should maintain a status quo. While this status quo for Chinese authorities refers maintain the Line of Actual Control (LAC), keeping their troops in the Chinese occupied Indian regions, for India, status quo means observing the traditional boundary between the states, thus pushing back the Chinese forces back to the Johnson line. International law also requires an in-depth study of the maps issued by both the countries involved in a border dispute. There is no precise official map available from both sides, which can be considered to resolve the issue.
To take maps as evidence for resolving border disputes, it must be proved that the cartographer of the maps did a detailed study of the geography and border between states, and the maps should be accurate even on a larger scale. This favours India. The Indian claims on the boundary between the two nations rest on the natural border, i.e., the Himalayas. The concept of the natural barrier also supports Indian claims to the boundary between India and China. However, only these rationales cannot decide the international border between any countries. Surveys should be carried out, the information should be gathered from the local inhabitants, and cultural and administrative facts should be combined before reaching any conclusion.
Both India and China have a history of relationships with each other, which is as old as 2000 years. Both countries are among the first civilizations of the world. Being neighbouring countries, the relation between India and China has been diplomatic, economical, and cordial. Both countries are part of the Asian continent, thus share some common culture. Also, both were part of the ancient silk-route, therefore, connecting their ties even more. China and India are both very populous countries and both gain independence at the same time. India was among the first countries to recognize the People’s Republic of China and establish diplomatic relations with it.
India and China are the fastest-growing economies of the world, have trade relations with most of the world. Both have a strong manufacturing sector and are both big markets also. China has made repetitive attempts to invade and occupy Indian territory and managed to be successful some of the time. China is slowly emerging as a world power, dominating the world. It is trying to defeat the USA. India is a threat to Chinese power because of the rapid economic developments and its significant population. Also, India’s popularity, power, and relations with other countries have increased manifold, threatening China. Most of the world supports India now.
China seems to be quite desperate to expand its territory and take away from India important areas like Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh. It cites that these areas were part of the Chinese empire before being a part of British India. China has support from Pakistan and recently, Nepal. The Jammu and Kashmir area is critical for India to retain as it has been part of the Indian culture for centuries, and the Himalayas in the region serve as a defensive line, protecting India from attacks by China. This recent military standoff of 2020 can be a sign of China to show the world that it still stands strong after the Covid-19 pandemic, as the Coronavirus emerged from China, and now, many countries have filed legal and compensation claims against the state. The world is against China right now. The pandemic has hindered the Chinese economy and has had a brutal impact on its relations with other countries. The removal of article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir, which provided the state with its unique powers, may have also angered the Chinese authorities. The Home Minister of India, Amit Shah, also said in a parliamentary meeting that Aksai Chin remains to be a part of the Indian territory. This declaration may have bothered China. These border disputes can also be seen as a part of China’s ambition of world domination because of the way it is invading and occupying India and the way it is asserting control on the South China Sea.
There exists no clearly-marked border between China and India. While India follows the Johnson Line and the McMohan Line, China is inclined towards the Macartney-MacDonald line. Both countries do not want to let go of the disputed areas, but the Chinese dream of acquiring every piece of land that may have been a part of the Chinese empire once is not practical. This border issue should be resolved with diplomatic and military level talks, and a clear boundary between the nations is a must. War or the involvement of the army between these two very populous and powerful countries is not a viable solution to resolve the issue. Both the countries should sit and hold meetings and should come to a solution to end this dispute forever, without the use of force.
Author: Yashvi Aggarwal from Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala.
Editor: Silky Mittal, Junior Editor, Lexlife India.