India trashes ‘1959 LAC’ claim
India on Tuesday asserted it has never accepted the unilaterally defined 1959 Line of Actual Control (LAC), and pointed out that several agreements with China committed both countries to confirming and clarifying the alignment of the boundary.
The ministry of external affairs (MEA) was reacting to a report about China’s foreign ministry saying in an official statement to Hindustan Times that Beijing abides by the LAC proposed by premier Zhou Enlai to prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in a letter dated November 7, 1959 — the first time in decades the Chinese side clearly outlined its stance on the notional boundary by reiterating a position India has consistently rejected since it was first made 61 years ago.
“We have seen a report in the Hindustan Times of 29th August, quoting a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement regarding China’s position on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the India-China border areas,” an MEA statement said. “India has never accepted the so-called unilaterally defined 1959 Line of Actual Control (LAC). This position has been consistent and well known, including to the Chinese side,” ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said.
Srivastava pointed out that under several bilateral agreements — including the 1993 Agreement on Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the LAC, the 1996 Agreement on Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) in the military field, the 2005 Protocol on Implementation of CBMs, and the 2005 Agreement on Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question — India and China have “committed to clarification and confirmation of the LAC to reach a common understanding of the alignment of the LAC”.
He added, “Therefore, the insistence now of the Chinese side that there is only one LAC is contrary to the solemn commitments made by China in these agreements.”
On Monday, the Chinese foreign ministry, in a statement in Mandarin, said that Beijing abides by the LAC proposed by Beijing in 1959. “Firstly, China-India border LAC is very clear, that is the LAC on November 7, 1959. China announced it in the 1950s, and the international community including India are also clear about it,” the ministry said.
Experts said India’s response reflected the wide gap in perceptions between the two sides amid the five-month standoff in the Ladakh sector of the LAC. More than five rounds of talks each through military and diplomatic channels have been unable to break the impasse in the disengagement and de-escalation process.
The external affairs ministry also blamed the Chinese side for lack of progress in the process for clarifying and confirming the boundary for almost two decades.
“In fact, the two sides had engaged in an exercise to clarify and confirm the LAC up to 2003, but this process could not proceed further as the Chinese side did not show a willingness to pursue it,” Srivastava said.
In response to a query from HT on why the process of LAC clarification has been stalled since 2002, the Chinese foreign ministry on Tuesday blamed India. “Over the years, the Indian side has repeatedly crossed the line to encroach on China’s territory and deliberately created new incidents, making the process of verifying the Line of Actual Control between the two sides impossible to proceed smoothly,” it said in a second statement.
India denies any transgressions.
The statements this week from both sides have been perceived as a sign that the border standoff, which began in early May, is unlikely to be resolved soon. The standoff has taken bilateral ties to an all-time low, and both sides have mobilised more than 50,000 troops each in the region and are now preparing to dig in for the harsh winter.
India on Tuesday pointed to an apparent dichotomy in the position adopted by the Chinese side — Beijing was insisting on abiding by the LAC of 1959 while stating in the latest discussions on the border standoff that the issue should be resolved on the basis of the existing agreements.
“In the last few months, the Chinese side has repeatedly affirmed that the current situation in the border areas should be resolved in accordance with the agreements signed between the two countries,” Srivastava said.
He said that even in the agreement reached between external affairs minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi during their talks on the margins of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting in Moscow on September 10, the Chinese side “has reiterated its commitment to abide by all the existing agreements”.
During their meeting, Jaishankar and Wang agreed on a five-point road map to take forward the disengagement process, which included dialogue aimed at quick disengagement, maintaining proper distance between troops of the two sides and easing tensions, and abiding by all agreements and protocols on border management.
The MEA said the Indian side has “always respected and abided by the LAC”, and defence minister Rajnath Singh stated in Parliament recently that “it is the Chinese side which by its attempts to transgress the LAC in various parts of the Western Sector, has tried to unilaterally alter the status quo”.
Srivastava said: “We therefore expect that the Chinese side will sincerely and faithfully abide by all agreements and understandings in their entirety and refrain from advancing an untenable unilateral interpretation of the LAC.”
Twenty Indian soldiers were killed on June 15 in a brutal clash in Galwan valley, which also resulted in unspecified Chinese casualties. Troops of both sides have fired warning shots on several occasions since late August, the first time shots have been fired along the LAC since 1975.
Meetings of the corps commanders and the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on border affairs have been unable to nudge forward the disengagement process, though the military officials agreed at their last meeting that both sides wouldn’t deploy any more troops to the frontline. The WMCC is set to hold another meeting soon.
Military experts said that by raking up the 1959 LAC, China was hardening its position and making a resolution of the border row even more difficult.
“India has never accepted the 1959 LAC. Not at the time it was brought up in 1959, not after the 1962 war when it was referred to in the unilateral ceasefire announced by China, or at any time after that. By referring to this, they seem to indicate that disengagement is unlikely,” said former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda (retd).
(With inputs from Rahul Singh)