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India-China Relations: A Reality Check (11 September 2020)

India-China Relations: A Reality Check (11 September 2020)

Why in News:

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart met in Moscow and both sides reached a five point agreement to disengage and de-escalate the situation along the Line of Actual Control.


In May, 2020, Indian and Chinese troops scuffled at Pangong Tso in Ladakh.

In June, 2020, 20 Indian soldiers were martyred and an unknown number of casualties on the Chinese side were reported after clashes occurred in Galwan Valley of Ladakh.

While faceoffs and standoffs keep occurring on the LAC due to differences in perception on the alignment, there has been no instance of firing on the LAC since 1975.

Summary of the Debate

About the agreements:

  • To follow the consensus between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping to “not allow differences to become disputes”,
  • To disengage the ongoing tussle quickly to ease tensions.
  • Both countries to abide the existing India-China border protocols and avoiding escalatory action.
  • Keep continuing the dialogue between Special Representatives National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Mr. Wang as well as the other mechanisms and working towards new confidence-building measures (CBMs).

Line of Actual Control (LAC)

  • The Line of Actual Control (LAC) is a loose demarcation line that separates Indian-controlled territory from Chinese-controlled territory in the Sino-Indian border dispute.
  • The term was first used by Zhou Enlai in a 1959 letter to Jawaharlal Nehru. It subsequently referred to the line formed after the 1962 Sino-Indian War, and is part of the Sino-Indian border dispute.
  • India considers the LAC to be 3,488 km long, while the Chinese consider it to be only around 2,000 km.
  • There are two common ways in which the term "Line of Actual Control" is used. In the narrow sense, it refers only to the line of control in the western sector of the border land between the Indian union territory of Ladakh and Chinese Tibet Autonomous Region.
  • In that sense, the LAC, together with a disputed border in the east (the McMahon Line for India and a line close to the McMahon Line for China) and a small undisputed section in between, forms the effective border between the two countries.
  • In the wider sense, it can be used to refer to both the western line of control and the eastern line of control, in which sense it is the effective border between India and the People's Republic of China (PRC).

Current border situation:

  • India treats Johnson line as a border in Ladakh and along the rest Macmohan line. China does not recognize any treaty which was signed between Tibet and British India.
  • In Bhutan they are trying that if they can shift the claim lines, improve the width of the Chumbi Valley so that they can get more troops in Chumbi Valley and be able to threaten Silliguri Corridor in a meaningful way.
  • Chinese have moved forward and tried to unilaterally change the status quo in the LAC and in the border areas. These are actual violations of the existing agreements.
  • There has been an enormous degree of mobilization on both sides of the border and there are number of thousands of troops that have been pushed forward.
  • India move its military deployments forward right to the point of its claim line in the Pangong area as well as the high level heights of the finger four area of Pangong Tso.
  • India has moved in additional divisions, tanks and artillery across the LAC to match Chinese deployments.

Way Forward:

  • The Chinese have trying to convey to the world taht they are now number two in the world and therefore they can get away with doing whatever .
  • If they are not able to succeed and if they are forced to come to some kind of agreement with India in terms of status quo ante then it does tremendous damage to China’s prestige globally.
  • Given the size of China, given the size of India and the fact that both the countries are Asian neighbours, it is good for the stability of this region that both the country have normal relationship.
  • Through the Atmanirbhar Bharat Initiative, India can try to replace Chinese products with domestic products in the sectors where it is possible. Further, it needs to boost up its economic relations with other countries.

Important points made by the Guests

TCA Rangachari, Former Ambassador 

  • On the positive side, the fact that two ministers have agreed that the dialogue would continue is a very positive agreement because the alternative to continuing with the dialogue is to have continuing tensions along the LAC, possibly also leading to conflict, which is not to the advantage of either side.
  • As far as bilateral relationship is concerned, the current Chinese actions resulted in a setback to the relationship and unless the Chinese side restores status quo ante, all that has been achieved in the course of the last three decades plus since the visit of Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister to China is going to come into question.
  • So far, India and China have both operated on the understanding that while we develop our relationship in various areas, in so far as the boundary question is concerned, in so far LAC is concerned, this will be subject to continuing discussions and as and when we are able to come to any agreement that would be the whatever final shape emerges will emerge from that. Until then neither side would unilaterally try and bring about the change and certainly not by the use of force. That is the understanding that has been now undermined by the Chinese action.

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, Foreign Affairs Editor, Hindustan Times

  • This is the highest level meeting that has now been held between India and China since the crisis broke out. It was also the first military meeting other than the military commanders meetings at the border earlier on.
  • These conversations have also taken place in a set of circumstances, one is that India has imposed economic sanctions on China, not only in digital space but also in the trade area and aligned ourselves much more closely with the technological standards of the USA and the west, all of these which will have long-term detrimental costs to China.
  • In effect India sent a message that we are prepared to escalate this further, we are not going to be accepting the status quo as the Chinese have been trying to communicate to us repeatedly that let’s just accept that Galwan Valley incident is over and whatever accomplished on the ground now should be allowed to remain. India said obviously, this is not going to happen and we are prepared to escalate further.
  • The point with the Chinese in all negotiations is that, what happens on the ground that matters, they don’t take words very seriously, and they don’t even take treaties and agreements very seriously. For them it’s about power situation.
  • The USA former President Barack Obama once said in an interview that, ‘Chinese will keep pushing as hard as possible until they face resistance’. That basically what India has come to now.
  • Chinese have now faced a prospect of either more bloody confrontation in which soldiers are killed and they are not capable of taking casualties, they have been surprised at the degree of casualties they have taken. They have taken economic heats which right now may not matter too much but in the long run will.
  • They have concerns that the present window of opportunity they have in the international arena with a distracted America, a weakened Japan and a subservient Russia may not be necessarily in place later on either next year or even potentially by the end of this year.
  • Now no longer matters where the China does go back to its original positions on the LAC, a large portion of the economic relationship is now completely wiped out and will not be restored.
  • Our continuing restrictions on Chinese whether Confucius institutes or people to people exchange, some of those might be lifted. The real fundamental question will be that how close do we wish to become geopolitically to the USA as the USA-China relationships deteriorates quite dramatically.

 Maj. Gen. (Retd.) SB Asthana, Strategic Expert

  • The basic achievements which these talk have achieved is, they have tried to stop a conflict or perhaps delay a conflict if it has to happen, but attempt is to stop a conflict.
  • The mistrust which the Chinese have created that stays. So long they are sitting in Depsang and so long they are sitting in finger 4 instead of behind finger 8. There is no question that these two things can go simultaneously; it can’t be business as usual.
  • The statements which were given before the talk, the Chinese were strategically thinking that, having made an ingress into the areas where they were not supposed to be as per CBMs (Confidence-Building Measures), they will try and freeze the situation and say ok we will talk and therefore they were saying that let’s look relationship beyond or sidelining the border issue. Whereas response of India was very clear that these two issues cannot be separated.
  • As far LAC and border are concerned, this is going to be a tug of war situation not withstanding what has been discussed. Both sides are now looking at probing actions and trying to occupy an unoccupied hill so that you don’t run into the risk of war, but at the same time you improve your strategic stroke tactical position.
  • Chinese follow Incremental Encroachment Strategy that move five steps without fighting and thereafter in case the opposition is too strong, take a step back and say all is done and in bargaining you gain four steps. For example; with Tajikistan, a signed settled demarcated border is there, but now China have started taking new claims on that border.
  • In Doklam issue, they went back to 1890 treaty because it was shooting them. So, changing stance is another strategy of China.
  • In 1959, Zhou Enlai had given a map to Jawaharlal Nehru, but Nehru did not agree with it and thereafter this is called as 1960 line. India moved on to the forward policy and subsequently they came up to Shyok and now they say till Shyok everything is theirs.
  • When they came on 1962, the warring given to the PLA was, remove everything, all the Indian posts which they perceive as their territory, but they could not do it totally. That is the LAC is all about.
  • The area of Ladakh and Galwan, when both country sat down at a lot of talks, this area was not part of the disputed pockets. Now all of a sudden they suddenly woke up one day to say that; no in 1962 we walked up to Shyok River also, therefore everything is ours.
  • They have been shifting their claim lines with Tajikistan, they have been shifting their claim lines with India and they are doing same with the Bhutan.


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