Parliament remains volatile as Opposition leaders are up in arms, demanding an explanation after news reports emerged suggesting that India has lost nearly 640 sq km of area to the Chinese on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Ladakh sector of Jammu and Kashmir in the past few months.
Reports aired by TV Channels on 5 September suggested that an official report submitted by the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) to the Government stated that Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has “incrementally” occupied nearly 640 sq km of area on the LAC in Ladakh in the past few months. The Chinese have managed to occupy territory as the PLA has followed a policy of preventing Indian troops from patrolling upto the Indian perception of the LAC, following a strategy of ‘area denial’ which leads to de-facto takeover of land.
Patrolling limits set by incremental PLA area denial in the eastern Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir has now become the de facto LAC and it is estimated that India has effectively lost 640 sq km of territory across three sectors in Depsang, Chumar and Pangong Tso in the Ladakh region.
According to media reports, the NSAB report says that Indian troops are no longer able to access certain points on the patrol line, thereby leading to denying of an area earlier accessible to them, and that after PLA incursions in April and May, the Depsang Bulge area in Ladakh is no longer accessible to Indian forces.
After the Chinese withdrawal in 1962, a Line of Actual Control (LAC) was established in Aksai Chin, a flatland measuring 37,000 sq km that both India and China claim as theirs. However, the LAC was never made final by either countries and despite 15 rounds of border talks, differing perceptions in India and China over the LAC cause over 200 incursions and LAC violations annually. Having built a highway across Aksai Chin in 1951, which catalysed the war, China still holds 38,000 sq km of Ladakh and claims a further 96,000 sq km in Arunachal Pradesh, which it calls Southern Tibet.
While the status-quo that is followed is that India has territorial possession of Arunachal (though China has not withdrawn its claim), China hold its portion of Aksai Chin. As there are differing perceptions of the LAC a line of patrolling has been established. This too is not recognised and is established by convention, therefore there are multiple line, each not recognised by the other – International border (disputed), LAC (based on perception) and the line of patrol (established by convention).
Neither country is any closer to settling the border issue and the result is that in April this year, the Chinese PLA had set up five tents in the Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) area of north-eastern Ladakh in J&K and this had led to a nearly three week-long stand-off with Indian troops. This is because this was the first time in two decades that the Chinese had crossed the LAC of India’s perception, set up tents and stayed put for over two weeks. The issue was finally settled amicably after the tents of both armies were dismantled, but there is still no settlement on the 3000 kilometer disputed border between India and China.
Why Isn’t the Border Settled
“For border agreements, first, there has to be a political agreement between the countries. This should be followed by joint surveys on ground, then a joint delineation on a map, and then a joint demarcation on the ground, border pillars, etc,” explains an official in New Delhi. But this was never done even between the British and the Chinese. The colonial British Survey of India drew maps but never exchanged them with China. Incredible as it may sound, the official says that India’s claims over the Aksai Chin are based on the historical grazing rights of the locals for their livestock and in 1947, India adopted the furthest claim line established by the British but did not consult with the Chinese.
Why China Doesn’t Want to Settle the Border
“By not settling the border dispute, China is able to put pressure on us as well as limit our regional role,” says former Indian foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal. “If they settle the border, our relations would improve and their choices would get limited. They will then have to do things in consultation with us.” The Chinese, he says, want to keep India on the “wrong foot” as a justification to extend their influence in the neighbourhood.
He also feel that “China is insecure about Tibet. It feels India has a card there and if it settles the border, it would have to inevitably settle with the Dalai Lama. The two cannot be separated in their minds.” Beijing, it is believed, wants to wait out until the Dalai Lama, 77, passes away, at which point it would install a Dalai Lama of its choosing, divvying up the Tibetans. Under China’s pressure, Nepal has already clamped down on Tibetan exiles within its borders forcing them to roll back protests. Analysts say Beijing wants to keep its claims on Tawang alive so that it can twist India’s arms to crack down on Tibetan protests here.
Srikanth Kondapalli, who teaches Chinese Studies at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, points to China’s history of seeking solutions to border disputes. “The Chinese resolve problems only with small or weak countries,” he says. In the 1960s, Beijing moved to resolve problems with Nepal, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Myanmar and Mongolia. But never with Vietnam and India, and did so with the Soviet Union only after it broke up in the 1990s and was considerably weakened from it.
“Right now both India and China are on an upswing. By waiting to resolve the issue, China would know which way India is headed,” he says. “Will India become weaker or stronger? At the same time, through massive infrastructural development, China would integrate these areas into its mainland so that any major territorial concession would not be possible.”
Who Said What?
BJP – The BJP is not only demanding an explanation from the Defence Minister, but they are demanding that the Prime Minster raise the issue with China in the G20 summit.
Congress – The Congress has said that the government has nothing to hide and that the Defence Minster will address the parliament and make all necessary clarifications.
Defence Minister– AK Antony told the Lok Sabha that Shyam Sharan’s report does not talk about any Chinese occupation on Indian soil. Govt would do all to protect India’s integrity. The NSAB report reviews the progress of road infrastructure to ensure connectivity of Ladakh and neighbouring places. There is no question of India ceding to China any part of Indian territory. No encroachment by China on Indian soil.
Army – The army has denied the information in the report and has stated that they are able to patrol upto their perception of the LAC.