India’s renewed request to China for clarity on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that separates the two Asian giants could be a stumbling block in resolving their decades-old boundary dispute, a senior Chinese official has indicated.
Instead, Beijing was in favour of framing a “code of conduct” and put in place comprehensive measures to maintain peace along the border, said Huang Xilian, deputy director general with the Asian affairs department in the Chinese foreign ministry. He said a process should be in place for a “building block”, rather than a “stumbling block”, to boost bilateral ties.
His remarks were viewed as a response to India’s push for a clearly demarcated border during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China in May, his first trip to the northern neighbour since being elected last year.
“We have been remarkably successful in maintaining peace and tranquility along the border. We must continue to do that on the principle of mutual and equal security… But a shadow of uncertainty always hangs over the sensitive areas of the border region. It is because neither side knows where the Line of Actual Control is in these areas. That is why I have proposed resuming the process of clarifying it. We can do this without prejudice to our position on the boundary question,” Modi has told the Chinese leadership.
In fact, he raised the topic in two separate speeches. China, as it turns out, is not keen on it.
“We tried to clarify some years ago but we encountered some difficulties which led to an even more complex situation,” Huang said during an interaction with Indian journalists and academics.
“Whatever we do, we should make it more conducive for promoting peace and tranquility … for making things easier, not making things even more complicated.” China and India have growing commercial links and deep historical ties, but their recent history has been overshadowed by suspicion and the two have yet to sort out the festering border dispute which often leads to frequent face-offs between their armies.
In September last year, the two armies faced off in the Ladakh sector in the western Himalayas just as Chinese President Xi Jinping was visiting India for the first summit talks with Modi. The disagreement over the 3,500 km border in the Himalayas involves large swathes of remote territory.
However, there is no simple solution to a conflict that largely dates back to British colonial decisions about Tibet. “We recognise there are some differences, including the border issue. Most are leftovers from history. Current governments are not to be blamed for them. But we have the responsibility to handle the issue so that it does not impact bilateral ties,” Huang said.
The model of relationship should be that of two neighbours strengthening cooperation and, at the same time, handling differences, he added.