Indo-China Border Management: 3 years after Galwan clash

Context: The Galwan clash of June 15-16, 2020 marked a watershed in India-China ties, which were already tense after the Chinese in April intruded into several places in Eastern Ladakh that are claimed by India. The Foreign Minister of India said despite many rounds of negotiations and engagement at multiple levels, the military tensions continue. India has said there can be no normal ties if China breaches border agreements.

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About Galwan Clash

  • A clash in Galwan in June 2020 happened when the Chinese People’s Liberation Army pitched tents and an observation post on India’s side of the LAC. 
  • After a general agreement on disengaging in the Galwan sector earlier in June, the Chinese agreed to withdraw. 
  • But on the night of June 15, 2020, a disagreement over the continued presence of the Chinese led to the bloodiest clash between India and China since 1975 resulting in the deaths of 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers.

Border dispute between India-China

  • The Line of Actual Control (LAC) is the demarcation that separates Indian-controlled territory from Chinese-controlled territory. 
  • India considers the LAC to be 3,488 km long, while the Chinese consider it to be only around 2,000 km. 
  • It is divided into three sectors: the eastern sector which spans Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, the middle sector in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, and the western sector in Ladakh.
  • Disputes:
  • Western sector (China is seeking claims): Trig Heights in the Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) area, Demchok, Depsang Bulge, Galwan, Pangong Lake, and Hot Springs.
  • Middle sector: Barahoti pasture north of Chamoli in Uttarakhand.
  • Eastern sector: The 1914 McMahon Line serves as the alignment of the LAC in the eastern sector, although minor disagreements exist over the ground locations in accordance with the high Himalayan watershed principle. This also applies to specific regions of India’s international border, such as Longju and Asaphila.

Border Agreement between India-China

  • In 2012, India and China agreed to establish a Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination to “study ways and means to conduct and strengthen exchanges and cooperation between military personnel and establishments in the border areas.
  • The 2013 Border Defence Cooperation Agreement lists several mechanisms to reduce misunderstandings and improve communication
  • It covers border stability and security, information asymmetry, smuggling, socio-economic reconstruction, environment, and disease transmission along the line of actual control.
  • The agreement prohibits either side from tailing the patrols of the other in areas where there is no common understanding of the line of actual control.
  • BDCA mentions the “India-China Strategic and Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity” and four previous border agreements:
  • Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement, 1993: Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control in the India–China Border Areas) to maintain the status quo on their mutual border pending an eventual boundary settlement.
  • Agreement on Confidence Building Measures, 1996: It limits the deployment of major categories of armaments close to the LAC, including tanks, infantry combat vehicles, guns with 75-mm or bigger calibre, mortars with 120-mm or above, and various missiles. It also limits combat aircraft from flying within 10 km of the LAC.
  • Protocol for the Implementation of Military Confidence Building Measures, 2005: It seeks to implement the 1993 and 1996 agreements by further detailing the confidence-building measures.
  • Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs, 2012: For improved institutionalized information exchange on border-related issues.

Relations thereafter

  • Three years on, the military tensions continue. India has more than 50,000 troops in Eastern Ladakh, with deployment at forward posts throughout the year.
  • Communication between the two sides had not broken down.

Border management after Galwan Clash

  • 5-point statement: On the ground, after 18 rounds of military level talks India and China have disengaged at five so-called “friction points”, a term favoured by the government to describe the unilateral changes made by the Chinese to the LAC in April 2020.
  • Both sides should take guidance from the consensus of the leaders on developing India-China relations, including not allowing differences to become disputes.
  • The current situation in the border areas is not in the interest of either side and therefore the border troops of both sides should continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions.
  • The two sides shall abide by all the existing agreements and protocols on China-India boundary affairs and maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas and avoid any action that could escalate matters.
  • The two sides will continue communications through the Special Representatives mechanism, and meetings of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on border affairs will continue.
  • As the situation eases, the two sides should expedite work to conclude new confidence-building measures to maintain and enhance peace and tranquillity in the border areas.
  • Demilitarised “buffer zones” have been established at disputed places such as the north and south banks of Pangong Tso, Patrolling Point (PP) 17 in the Gogra-Hot Springs area etc. There is no clarity about how much land has been converted into buffer zones over the disengagement process.
  • China is also creating infrastructure in the region, including two bridges on its side of Pangong Lake for easier movement from the north bank to the southern bank, and roads and accommodation. India too has been rapidly developing infrastructure on its side building.

Way forward

  • All issues at the LAC need to be resolved in accordance with existing bilateral agreements and commitments.
  • Both countries should take a long-term view, place the border issue in an appropriate position in bilateral relations and promote the transition of the border situation to normalised management.
  • Since the Galwan incident, the two sides have disengaged at multiple friction points even as military and diplomatic talks continue to find a way out of the impasse at Depsang and Demchok.
  • India should boost security forces and border infrastructure in the border areas as the Chinese side has an edge over India in terms of infrastructure and forces in the region.
  • People living in the border areas should be integrated into the developmental mainstream so that they do not feel left behind and leave their homes. This can be done through schemes like Vibrant Villages Program and promoting tourism in the region.
  • Trade and other linkages should be promoted along the land borders with China. This can be done by establishing more trading points and establishing land border trading points.
  • The long-term solution lies in permanently settling the border dispute once and for all. The mechanisms established for settling borders should be taken seriously and both countries should look to settle their differences.

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