In the run-up to the high-level military talks between India and China, which is scheduled to be held in eastern Ladakh today, the unseen Line of Actual Control has become ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.
Both India and China have different perceptions on what constitutes the Line of Actual Control (LAC). For India, the LAC covers areas that China considers as its territory and the same goes for the Chinese.
This imaginary line, which runs through Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, has been a bone of contention for both India and China for decades. It has once again become a flashpoint after the latest intrusion by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
Unlike the Line of Control (LoC), the border between India and Pakistan delineated on a map and signed by armies of both countries with international sanctity, the LAC is ambiguous. It is neither a line nor in control, most of the time.
Formal without actual drawing
The LAC was the informal ceasefire line between the two countries after the 1962 war. It remained informal until India and China signed a bilateral agreement in 1993 and formally introduced the LAC.
Although no bullet has been fired between the two countries since 1967, it has witnessed numerous clashes between patrol parties of both sides.
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Many times, the Chinese enter what they consider to be their territory but is actually India’s. The same holds true for Indian’s patrol parties too.
India now terms these intrusions as transgressions because of the differing perception about the LAC.
Current standoff is the worst since Kargil
China has now brought forward at least 5,000 troops along the LAC in eastern Ladakh. Transgressions have been reported at multiple locations in eastern Ladakh — three in the larger Hot Springs area and one in the ‘Finger’ area of Pangong lake.
The current events are different from how things unfolded in 1999, but the fact that the troop build-up and transgressions are happening at multiple locations makes this the worst border tension India has seen since the Kargil battle in 1999.
While some compare it to the 2017 Doklam standoff, it should be remembered that Doklam was in Bhutanese territory and the current transgressions are in an area that India considers its own.
Incidentally, the troop build-up by China along the LAC also goes against the 1993 agreement.
Article III of the 1993 Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas says, “Each side will keep its military forces in the areas along the line of actual control to a minimum level compatible with the friendly and good neighbourly 66 relations between the two countries”.
But no numbers were mentioned in the agreement and what constitutes the “minimum level” had remained undefined, according to a paper published by the Observer Research Foundation.
However, Article V of the 1996 Agreement between India and China on Confidence-Building Measures in the Military Field along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas says that aircraft cannot fly within 10 km of the LAC. It only allows “unarmed transport aircraft, survey aircraft and helicopters” to fly up to one km of the LAC.
LAC will be in news in future too
The LAC will continue to be in the news for some time as the difference of perception remains on both sides.
The special representatives-level talks on the boundary question between India and China will have to reach a consensus before these patrol clashes can be brought to an end.
The last round of the special representatives-level talks, the 22nd edition, happened in New Delhi in December 2019 between National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and State Councillor and China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi.
Until the border disputes are not resolved by India and China, tension level at the LAC will continue to heat up from time to time.
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