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India-China Border Agreements-Past to Present

  • 23 February, 2021

  • 10 Min Read

India-China Border Agreements-Past to Present

McMohan Line

  • How could India support the McMahon Line when Tibet had “never possessed the right” to conclude sovereign agreements with the outside world?
  • China had practised “restraint” in the Eastern Sector (the sector covered by the McMahon Line) of the boundary with India.

China’s Forward policy

  • The events in Galwan in the summer of 2020 in the Western Sector of the boundary China was “practising a forward policy because there are so many grey areas”.

The collapse of the edifice of bilateral relations

  • They had not allowed these differences to prevent the development of relations in other areas, including trade and economic ties as well as people-to-people interaction in various spheres.
  • Peace and tranquillity in the border areas had also been maintained for over four decades.
  • But the unravelling had begun. Two nationalisms were contending and the untrammelled rise of China was generating new global power equations and alignments.
  • The gulf between India and China was growing.
  • Come 2020, Galwan signalled the collapse of the edifice of bilateral relations built on these weak foundations over three decades.
  • Measures to strengthen peace and tranquillity and confidence-building in the border areas had obviously been rendered obsolete and inadequate as armed confrontation replaced a flimsy structure of so-called peaceful coexistence.

 Peace agreements over time

  • 1993 Agreement: Since 1993, India and China had arrived at a number of agreements to maintain peace and tranquillity and promote confidence-building measures (CBMs) in the border areas. The Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas was signed in 1993.
  • 1996 Agreement: The Agreement Between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of China on Confidence-Building Measures in the Military Field Along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas (1996);
  • 2005 Agreement: Protocol between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of China on Modalities for the Implementation of Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field Along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas (2005)
  • 2012 Agreement: Agreement on the Establishment of a Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (2012);
  • 2013 Agreement: Agreement on Border Defence Cooperation (2013).

Key features of the agreements

  • Some of the key features of these agreements were:
    • Peaceful Resolution: The boundary question would be resolved peacefully;
    • No use of threat: Neither side would use or threaten to use force against the other “by any means”;
    • LAC: That the two sides would respect and observe the Line of Actual Control (LAC);
    • The minimum level of military forces: That military forces (including field army, border defence forces, paramilitary forces) and major categories of armaments in mutually agreed geographical zones along the LAC would be kept to a minimum level compatible with friendly and good neighbourly relations and the “requirements of mutual and equal security”;
    • Military exercises: military exercises would be undertaken only at specified levels with prior notification being given for such exercises near the LAC;
    • Prior notice: Prior notice would be given regarding flights of combat aircraft within 10 kilometres from the LAC;
    • Self-restraint: If border personnel of the two sides came face-to-face due to differences in alignment of the LAC they would exercise self-restraint and avoid an escalation of the situation;

The China-Russia thread

  • The inspiration for the first two of these Agreements, signed in 1993 and 1996, came from the example set by first the Soviet Union and then Russia in concluding such understandings on CBMs with China.
  • Military confrontation — a defining feature in their relations from the 1960s (the bloody incident of 1969 on the Damansky island may be recalled) — was removed.
  • A strategic partnership of equality and trust oriented towards the 21st century was developed.
  • After the coming to power of Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union conceded a long-standing Chinese demand to allow the adoption of the median line of the navigational channel of the Amur-Ussuri River as the boundary between the two countries.
  • It was a major concession and quite contrary to the conventional view that the bigger country is usually unwilling to cede ground in negotiations.
  • Further Soviet moves to reduce China’s sense of insecurity followed.
    • These were the removal of SS-20 intermediate-range ballistic missiles from along the border with China and the agreement to negotiate military CBMs.
    • Moscow also made unilateral troop reductions.
  • In April 1990, an Agreement on the Guidelines of Mutual Reduction of Forces and Confidence-building in the Military Field in the Area of the Soviet-Chinese Border was signed.
  • This committed the two governments to the reduction of military forces to the lowest level suited to normal good neighbourly relations on “an equal basis for mutual security”.
  • In 1991, an Agreement on the Eastern Sector of National Boundaries was concluded by the two countries, resolving 98% of outstanding boundary issues.
    • They also agreed that the zone of military CBMs would be 100 km on each side of the border.

What made it work

  • The main characteristic of these CBMs was the willingness of the bigger power — the Soviet Union — to undertake unilateral concessions and asymmetric reductions in military strength vis-à-vis China.
  • The collapse of the Soviet Union, far from hindering the process of normalisation only smoothened it further — Russia and China continued to improve relations, their strategic convergence spurred on by shared suspicion about the overwhelming preponderance of U.S. global power at the end of the Cold War.
  • The success of their alignment post-1989 and the Deng Xiaoping-Gorbachev Summit (held against the backdrop of the Tiananmen Square student demonstrations) was that they identified common interests and were committed to building a relationship that was “broadly based and institutionalized” (Jingdong Yuan).

Why couldn’t India-China build better relations?

  • Lack of mutual respect: Our experience with China on CBMs and tension-reduction along the border differs from the experience of Russia is that first, the five Agreements we signed between 1993 and 2013 were not nurtured in an environment of a steady enhancement of mutual trust and political commitment for building a strong infrastructure of bilateral relations between India and China that promoted both bilateral and regional understanding and cooperative endeavour.
  • No boundary settlement: Unlike in the Russia-China case, no final boundary settlement accompanied these CBMs to sustain and strengthen their operation.
  • No clarification: Even a joint clarification of the LAC remained unattainable.
  • No political will with China: Third, China as the bigger power, unlike the Soviet Union under Gorbachev in its dealings with Beijing, has never signalled willingness to make asymmetric or unilateral concessions to India or act in a manner, especially in our neighbourhood, that enhances India’s trust or confidence.


Source: TH


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