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  • Writer's pictureNeeraj Singh Manhas

Negotiating Peace at the Sino-Indian Line of Actual Control


Tensions erupt between Indian and Chinese soldiers in the Galwan Valley, June 2020

 

The relationship between India and China is an intricate and ever-evolving web of collaboration and competition. Both countries have a profound cultural legacy as well as extensive economic relations, but throughout history, they have also been involved in strategic competition with one another. In recent years, the relationship between the two countries has become strained due to a number of causes, including economic competitiveness, India’s growing concerns over China’s actions in the region, and, most acutely, militarized clashes over the so-called “Line of Actual Control.”


The Line of Actual Control, or LAC, is the two side’s temporary solution to their long-standing border dispute. While there have been several attempts to achieve progress on the issue, high-profile incidents in recent years have highlighted the persistent risk of escalation that exists between these two countries in their border areas. As both sides continue their military build-up and infrastructure improvement along the LAC, there is utility in revisiting the issues and gaining a better understanding of what is necessary to achieve progress in negotiating a peaceful resolution of Sino-Indian border disputes.


Background on the Sino-Indian Border Dispute


Militarized violence in the sprawling highlands between India and China first manifested in the short but intense Sino-Indian War in 1962. Thousands were killed in the conflict that lasted for just thirty-one days. The conflict ended with China’s unilateral disengagement, meaning there was no formal peace agreement to end the hostilities.


Since then, the two sides have attempted to negotiate resolution of border delimitation while establishing crisis management mechanisms between military forces. They concluded agreements in 1993, 1996, 2005, 2012, and 2013 as the two countries sought to eliminate this core source of military conflict between the two. Nevertheless, skirmishes still broke out in short but tense security incidents.


The most notable clash between Indian and Chinese military forces in recent years took place on 15 June 2020 in the Galwan Valley along the Line of Actual Control in the western Himalayas. As a direct result of the conflict, twenty Indian soldiers were killed, while the number of Chinese losses is still unknown. The incident marked a substantial escalation of tensions between the two countries and led to a military stalemate that lasted for several months as both sides bolstered their military positions along the LAC. Since then, the situation in that area of the LAC has returned to normal, but tensions continue to mount as both sides maintain a high level of vigilance and have increased the number of troops stationed in the area.


Indian and Chinese soldiers face off in the Galwan Valley, June 2020


Following the events of the Galwan incident, on 9 December 2022, another military confrontation took place in the Tawang sector along the LAC in the Yangtse region. The incident reminded the world of the potential for conflict and tension between India and China in the border regions.


The border standoff between India and China at the LAC is occurring for a variety of reasons. Those include the following: unresolved territorial disputes; variations in how the LAC is understood by different parties; strengthening of Indian and Chinese military forces in border areas; and infrastructure improvements on both sides of the LAC. An uptick in confrontations and border patrols have resulted from these factors, exacerbated by competition on a strategic level and influence in the region.


How the two countries see each other


The relationship between India and China is characterized by a blend of geopolitical competition and economic collaboration. Both countries continue to argue over their borders, and India is concerned about China’s efforts to expand its military and economic leverage in the region. However, both nations are also significant trading partners, and they have made attempts to enhance bilateral relations through both diplomatic and economic engagement.


Meanwhile, China views India not only as a strategic rival in the area but also as a country whose influence is expanding across the globe. China is concerned about India’s growing military and economic capabilities, in addition to the persistent border issues that exist between the two countries. However, like India, the government in Beijing recognizes that the two nations are significant trading partners, so they too have demonstrated a willingness to enhance bilateral relations through diplomatic and economic engagement.



How can the two parties negotiate a peaceful settlement of their border disputes?


The process of finding a peaceful resolution to the problems associated with the LAC must include deliberate negotiations along the border between India and China. While this has proven to be a complex and difficult process, it is nevertheless vital for eliminating a key source of conflict between the two sides.


The following are some essential components for ensuring fruitful negotiations going forward:


1) Clear interests and objectives: Both parties should have a clear grasp of their respective negotiating interests and objectives to find potential room for compromise in order to reach an agreement that is mutually acceptable.


2) Good faith and transparency: In order to reach a conclusion, both parties must enter the discussions with good faith and transparency in mind. When combined with a ability to find mutual concessions based on their respective interests, they can achieve breakthroughs in issue areas that have proven unresolvable in the past.


3) Effective communication: Being able to communicate consistently and effectively is a prerequisite for conducting fruitful negotiations. Both parties must be able to listen to one another, convey their perspectives in a manner that is clear and respectful, and make an earnest effort to comprehend one another’s points of view.


4) Inclusive and representative delegations: There is no shortage of personnel in Beijing and New Delhi who understand their bilateral relations and the issues at play. The key is finding delegations that are both inclusive and representative of a wide variety of perspectives to enable meaningful engagement in the negotiation process. Both the countries’ delegations must be equally empowered to negotiate on behalf of their respective governments, which has proven challenging in the past when Indian negotiators came with greater delegated authority and flexibility than their Chinese counterparts.


5) Technical expertise: It is possible that the negotiations will involve technical experience in areas such as military, legal, and geographical issues. To ensure that the negotiation process is both comprehensive and effective, all parties should have access to the relevant subject matter experts.


By adhering to these essential components, negotiations at the border between India and China have the potential to be a fruitful and productive process that contributes to the reduction of tensions and the discovery of a peaceful resolution of a decades-long source of conflict.


Conclusion


The India-China border issue is a complicated and protracted disagreement between the two nations. The dispute has resulted in a full-fledged war and a number of incidents since, some of which have escalated to the point of military engagements. Despite the risk of escalation, both parties continue to press their claims to the border regions. Since the beginning of the conflict, parties have been engaged in ongoing efforts to find a diplomatic solution; however, no conclusion has been arrived at yet. The situation is still quite heated, and while there has been a brief lull in security incidents, it is essential for both parties to have meaningful conversations with one another in order to find a peaceful solution before another occurs.

 

Neeraj Singh Manhas is the Director of Research in the Indo-Pacific Consortium at Raisina House, New Delhi. He has authored three books and has diverse research interests covering Sino-Indian border issues, China in the Indian Ocean; India-China Foreign Policy; Water security; Defence and Indo-Pacific studies. His recent edited book is “Analysing the Current Afghan Context” (Routledge 2022). His writings have appeared in the Institute for Security & Development Policy (ISDP), Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, The Hindu Business Line, The Pioneer, Financial Express, and other online platforms. He tweets at @The_China_Chap.


Cable No 23_Negotiating Peace at the Sino-Indian Line of Actual Control
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