A phantom called the ‘Line of Actual Control’ (LAC)
At the heart of India’s and China’s continued inability to make meaningful progress on the boundary issue (LAC) are four agreements — signed in September 1993, November 1996, April 2005 and October 2013 — between the two countries.
Ironically, India and China keep referring to these agreements as the bedrock of the vision of progress on the boundary question. Unfortunately, these are deeply flawed agreements and make the quest for settlement of the boundary question at best a strategic illusion and at worst a cynical diplomatic parlour trick. Here’s how.
LAC – the premise of all boundary agreements –
- According to the 1993 agreement (on the maintenance of peace and tranquility along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the India-China border areas), “pending an ultimate solution”, “the two sides shall strictly respect and observe the LAC between the two sides… No activities of either side shall overstep the LAC”.
- Further, both the 1993 and the 1996 agreement (on confidence-building measures in the military field along the LAC) say they “will reduce or limit their respective military forces within mutually agreed geographical zones along the LAC.” This was to apply to major categories of armaments and cover various other aspects as well, including air intrusions “within ten kilometres along the LAC”.
Where is the LAC?
- The specification of this LAC as the starting point and the central focus has made several key stipulations and articles of the four agreements effectively inoperable for more than a quarter of a century.
- Article XII of the 1996 agreement, for instance, says, “This agreement is subject to ratification and shall enter into force on the date of exchange of instruments of ratification.” It is not clear if and when that happened.
- Astonishingly, nowhere in the 1993 agreement is there the provision to recognise the existing lines of deployment of the respective armies, as they were in 1993. The agreement does not reflect any attempt to have each side recognise the other’s line of deployment of troops at the time it was signed.
- If both armies are to respect the LAC, where is the line? The ambiguity over the LAC has brought a prolonged sense of unease and uncertainty and thus exponentially contributed to the military build-up in those areas. The absence of a definition of this line allows ever new and surreptitious advances on the ground.
LAC – an imaginary line –
- In effect, in the eastern sector, where the Chinese have not accepted the loosely defined McMahon line which follows the principle of watershed, and in the western sector the LAC is two hypothetical lines.
- Indian imagination – The first is what Indian troops consider the extent to which they can dominate through patrols, which is well beyond the point where they are actually deployed and present.
- Chinese imagination – The second is what the Chinese think they effectively control, which is well south of the line they were positioned at in 1993.
Did India-China make an attempt to define the LAC?
- The exchange of maps in the middle sector were made where divergences were the least, i.e., the existing line and the Chinese and Indian idea of the LAC were more or less the same (in 2002).
- In 2003, it had been agreed that both sides would exchange maps to an agreed scale on each side’s perceptions of the location of the LAC in the western sector.
- The idea was to superimpose the maps to see where the perceptions converged and, crucially, where they diverged. Due to the contentious nature of the sector, it would provide a starting point, not the end point, to discuss how to reconcile divergences presumed to be significant, given Chinese military behaviour on the ground there.
- Chinese representative Wang Yi took the map, gave it a long, hard look, and wordlessly returned it. He provided no reason for his action. The meeting effectively ended there. In hindsight, it is obvious that Mr. Wang didn’t think the map was in Chinese interests. Apparently, New Delhi’s claim with regard to the LAC in the western sector was not acceptable to the Chinese.
By disregarding the map, China is not bound in any way by New Delhi’s perception of the LAC, and therefore does not have to limit liberty of action. Because the nature of the terrain, deployment, and infrastructure and connectivity asymmetries in the border areas continue to be so starkly in China’s favour that it is clear that the Chinese are in no hurry to settle the boundary question. They see that the cost to India in keeping this question open suits them more than settling the issue.
Source – The Hindu
QUESTION – With several rounds of discussions over the boundary question between the plenipotentiaries of India and China, the issue of LAC does not seem to be moving forward in the right direction. It is said that the Chinese side wants to keep exploring the strategic leverage that it has with this boundary dispute between the two countries. Explain.