Why India-China Border disputes are unresolved?

Synopsis: India and China signed several bilateral agreements for border disputes resolution. However, it has not been to ensure permanent peace at the border.

Background

  • The year 2020 witnessed increased India – China border tensions in the Ladakh region, especially the Galwan valley. The incident involved an armed conflict in which soldiers from both sides died. 
  • It happened despite signing numerous agreements in the past for settling border disputes.
    Efforts of bilateral issues resolution between India and China

The agreements were aimed at restoring peace and promoting confidence-building measures (CBMs).

YearAgreement/ Protocol 
1993Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the India-China Border Areas
1996Agreement on Confidence-Building Measures in the Military Field Along the LAC
2005Protocol for the Implementation of Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field Along the LAC
2012Agreement on the Establishment of a Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs
2013Agreement on Border Defence Cooperation
  • Key Features of the agreements:
    • Refrain from use of force against each other
    • Peaceful settlement of disputes should be undertaken
    • Mutual ascertainment of LAC and deployment of minimum armed personnel around it.
    • Prior notification should be given for conducting military exercises and flying combat aircraft within 10 km of LAC
    • Practising self-restraint in case of face to face military contacts 
    • Stipulating the channels that should be used for communication and border personnel meetings in case of emergencies.
  • The agreements between India and China were inspired by the success of Russia – China engagements.

How China- Russia resolved bilateral disputes?

  1. The relations between China and Russia marked by military confrontation along the border in the 1960s. However, the disputes were duly tackled by new leaders like Mikhail Gorbachev. He promoted CBMs (confidence-building measures) for dispute resolution.
  2. Both countries developed a strategic partnership based on equality and mutual trust.
  3. In 1990, an Agreement on the Guidelines of Mutual Reduction of Forces and Confidence-building in the Military Field along the border was signed.
  4. In May 1991, an Agreement on the Eastern Sector of National Boundaries was concluded by the two countries. This resolved  98% of outstanding boundary issues.

What were the reasons for the success of the China-Russia agreements?

  1. Unilateral concessions were made by the bigger power (Russia). 
  2. The collapse of the Soviet Union brought the two countries closer against the common enemy (US).
  3. They identified common interests that helped them build broad and institutionalized relationships.  

Why are border disputes still persistent between India and China, despite agreements?

  • First, As per China, Tibet never had the sovereign rights to conclude agreements. Therefore, recognition of the McMahon line (Line of actual control) by India based on Tibet’s past agreement undermined China’s sovereignty.
  • Second, China’s approach of following a forward policy in the western region often leads to clashes along the border. The recent one is the Galwan valley clash of 2020.
  • Third, being the bigger power, China has never shown its will for unilateral and asymmetric concessions.
  • Fourth, the agreements signed between the countries were not nurtured in an environment of equality and mutual trust.
  • Fifth, the countries have failed to publish a joint declaration on LAC. This is necessary for promoting CBMs between the countries.

Way Forward:

  • China needs to change its traditional stance of assertiveness along the border which would help in better implementation of bilateral agreements. 
  • Further interaction in other spheres like trade and commerce should be carried out despite border tensions as done by both countries till now. 

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