In response to media reports quoting a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement regarding China’s position on the LAC, Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava, on Tuesday, 29 September, said that India has never accepted the “so-called unilaterally defined 1959 Line of Actual Control (LAC)”.
Further, the MEA statement said that India’s position on the same has been “well known” to the Chinese side as well.
Stating that the Chinese statement is contrary to its own solemn commitments, MEA also said:
"“…under their various bilateral agreements including the 1993 Agreement on Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the LAC, 1996 Agreement on Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) in the military field, 2005 Protocol on Implementation of CBMs, 2005 Agreement on Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for settlement of the India-China Boundary Question, both India and China have committed to clarification and confirmation of the LAC to reach a common understanding of the alignment of the LAC. In fact, the two sides had engaged in an exercise to clarify and confirm the LAC up to 2003, but this process could not proceed further as the Chinese side did not show a willingness to pursue it.”"
MEA also said that they expect China to “sincerely and faithfully abide by all agreements and understandings and refrain from advancing an untenable unilateral interpretation of the LAC.”
What Did China Say?
China’s foreign ministry has told the Hindustan Times in an exclusive statement that it ‘abides’ by the Line of Actual Control (LAC) as proposed by then-Premier Zhou Enlai to then-Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru back in November 1959.
"“Firstly, China-India border LAC is very clear, that is the LAC on November 7, 1959. China announced it in the 1950s, and the international community, including India, are also clear about it.”" - Chinese statement, as reported by HT
This statement could prove to be a major stumbling block to the disengagement talks ongoing between India and China following an unprecedented rise in tensions at the border in Ladakh since May this year.
The Chinese foreign ministry is using this perception of the LAC to claim that the Indian Army has “continued to arrive and illegally cross the border, unilaterally expanding the scope of actual control.”
It goes on to add: “This is the source of tension on the border issues. The key to disengagement between the two armies is India’s withdrawal of all illegal cross-border personnel and equipment.”
India’s Consistent Rejection of the ‘1959’ LAC
India has consistently rejected this perception of the LAC, ever since it was first proposed by Enlai in a letter to Nehru dated 7 November 1959.
In the letter, the Chinese Premier had suggested that “the Armed Forces of China and India each withdraw 20 kilometres at once from the so-called McMahon Line in the east, and from the line up to which each side exercises actual control in the west”.
India rejected the proposal in 1959 and again in 1962. In 1963, Nehru wrote to Enlai, saying that China’s offer to withdraw from the LAC (based on the 1959 proposal) was meaningless. Thirty years later, India insisted the term LAC in the Sino India ‘Agreement on Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the LAC in India-China Border Areas’ of 1993, would not be defined according to the 1959 proposal.
Despite the proposal, Beijing has not previously insisted on this perception of the LAC in an unequivocal manner, especially in recent years. The last time it came up was in August 2017, when there was a scuffle between Indian and Chinese troops along the Pangong Lake in Ladakh. The Chinese foreign ministry then made a reference to the “1959 LAC”, and even then, did not clarify what exactly they meant by this.
Why This Spells Trouble for Disengagement Talks
China’s insistence on defining the LAC in this manner means that they will continue to be blame India for the ongoing tensions and the Galwan Valley clash on 15 June. This in itself creates a fundamental difference between the two sides, as China’s moves in the region since May correspond to this perception of the LAC.
In addition, this will also prove to be a problem for any agreement to disengage going forward, as it makes it difficult to pinpoint the differences between the two sides in the western sector.
HT spoke to some diplomatic officials familiar with the talks between India and China on this issue over the years, who said that “the LAC clarification process broke down 'an hour into the meeting' in 2002.”
The talks don’t appear to have progressed on this point at all in the years since, including through the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs which was set up in 2012.
Only a few days previously, Yun Sun, co-director of the East Asia Program and director of the China Program at the Stimson Center in Washington, had suggested to ThePrint that China are probably aiming to define the LAC on the 1959 basis. Trying to resolve this diplomatically will require negotiations involving historical evidence and legal documents that “are unlikely to go anywhere”, she said.
This means, according to Sun, that this was likely to lead to the creation of an LOC-style ‘border’ in the western sector, based on military realities, rather than an officially agreed LAC. This could strike a blow to India’s approach to the disengagement talks, which has focused on a return to the ‘status quo ante’.
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