A Risky New Status Quo : Indo China Border : Daily Current Affairs

Date: 22/09/2022

Relevance: GS-2: India and its neighborhood relations.

Relevance: GS-3: Security challenges and their management in border areas.

Key Phrases: Line of Actual Control, Patrolling Point 15, Sino-Indian border dispute, 2020–2022 India–China skirmishes, The military threat on the border.


  • After years of inconclusive military talks and halting “disengagement” from sites of confrontation, India and China made inching progress last week.


  • Both the parties completed disengagement in an area known as Patrolling Point 15 (PP15), pulling troops back to create a demilitarized buffer zone.
  • Leaders from both sides met at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Samarkand.
  • The tentative conciliatory steps between two nuclear-armed rivals are important; but they also carry risks, especially for India.
  • Despite the latest round of disengagement, the LAC remains deeply unsettled.
  • Observers have pointed out that the buffer zones produced by the crisis inhibit India’s ability to patrol its own territory.
  • India and China have tacitly agreed to postpone settlement at two other confrontation sites, including a particularly tactically valuable area known as Depsang.
  • The buffer zones and Depsang’s status both suit China’s objectives because they limit India’s military activities near the LAC, which analysts judge had partly motivated China’s initial incursions in 2020.

The Sino-Indian border dispute

  • It is an ongoing territorial dispute over the sovereignty of two relatively large, and several smaller, separated pieces of territory between China and India.
  • The first of the territories, Aksai Chin, is administered by China as part of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Tibet Autonomous Region and claimed by India as part of the union territory of Ladakh;
    • It is the most uninhabited high-altitude wasteland in the larger regions of Kashmir and Tibet and is crossed by the Xinjiang-Tibet Highway, but with some significant pasture lands at the margins.
  • The other disputed territory is south of the McMahon Line in Arunachal Pradesh.
    • The McMahon Line was part of the 1914 Simla Convention signed between British India and Tibet, without China's agreement.
    • China disowns the agreement, stating that Tibet was never independent when it signed the Simla Convention.

2020–2022 India–China skirmishes

  • Beginning on 5 May 2020, Chinese and Indian troops engaged in aggressive face-offs at locations along the Sino-Indian border, including near the disputed Pangong Lake in Ladakh and the Tibet Autonomous Region, and near the border between Sikkim and the Tibet Autonomous Region.
  • Additional clashes also took place at locations in eastern Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The military threat on the border

  • It has not diminished but actually grown over the course of the crisis. The reinforcements that each side deployed since 2020 have not returned to garrison.
  • Even if future rounds of talks continue “disengagement and de-escalation,” and reduce those forces, returning to the status quo ante is now impossible.
  • Both sides have raced to build permanent military infrastructure near the border, to help them surge forces to the border.
  • Unsurprisingly, China seems to have outpaced India in building these roads, helipads, and communications nodes.
  • China still claims Arunachal Pradesh as its own, and just as it has pressed its maritime claims once its growing capabilities permit, its military build-up may pose increasing pressure in coming years.
  • Even without a deliberate attack, the increasing capabilities and mobility on both sides of the border mean that a crisis can more quickly escalate to a large military stand-off anywhere on the LAC

Strategic implications

  • For over two years, the land border has become the overwhelming priority in India’s military competition with China. India has deployed its newest artillery, fighter jets, and drones to the China border which were earlier deployed for Pakistan.
  • At the same time, India has not significantly improved its capabilities or posture in the Indian Ocean region.
  • Granted, impressive new capabilities — from cruise missile-equipped fighters and U.S.-origin naval helicopters to a brand-new indigenously-built aircraft carrier — are nearly ready.
  • But these programmes were all initiated before the border crisis, when the Indian military was incrementally modernizing its capabilities for the Indian Ocean.
  • As India and China vie for security and influence in Asia, the contest in the Indian Ocean will inevitably intensify.
  • Their respective capabilities to project military force across the Ocean, to coerce or defend smaller regional States, and establish an enduring strategic presence there, will determine the Asian balance of power.
  • With the border crisis, China seems to have successfully diverted India’s attention to the land border, at the expense Indian Ocean.

Disengagement at PP15

  • Continued disengagement and de-escalation has the potential to ameliorate this strategic trap.
  • A progressively less urgent threat will tempt New Delhi to de-emphasize military readiness on the border.
  • This could be a golden opportunity for Indian planners to work towards long-term military modernization and political influence across the Indian Ocean region.
  • But a more probable and riskier outcome is that decision makers will prioritize other, more politically salient issues, like gaining quick wins in the campaign for Atma Nirbharta in the defense industry which may come at the expense of modernization.

Additional Knowledge: Important Boundary Lines

  • McMahon Line
    • Named after the British Indian Army officer Lieutenant Colonel Sir Arthur Henry McMahon, who was also an administrator in British India, the McMahon line is a demarcation that separates Tibet and north-east India.
  • Radcliffe Line
    • The Radcliffe Line divided British India into India and Pakistan. It is named after the architect of this line, Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who was also the chairman of the Boundary Commissions.
    • It was drawn between West Pakistan (now Pakistan) and India on the western side and between India and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) on the eastern side of the subcontinent.
  • Durand Line
    • Boundary line between India and Afghanistan demarcated by Sir Mortimer Durand, a British diplomat in the year 1896.
    • It separated British India and Afghanistan.
  • Line of Actual Control (LAC)
    • It is the demarcation line between India and China which separates the India controlled territory from the China-controlled territory in the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Line of Control (LOC)
    • The military controlled line between India and Pakistan in the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir is named as the Line of Control (LOC).
    • It was originally known as the Ceasefire Line. After the Simla Agreement it was renamed as the LOC.

Way Forward

  • Paradoxically, a cooling crisis on the border may teach India the wrong lesson: that the short-term expedient of greater readiness is enough to see off the Chinese threat.
  • In fact, and especially for the strategic prize of the Indian Ocean region, the challenge posed by China cannot be met without long-term growth in Indian national capacity.
  • That, in turn, requires coherent strategic assessments and the political will to balance readiness with modernization.
  • Restoring relations, as well as the status quo along the borders, will require mutual sensitivity and an adherence to past agreements that helped keep the peace, rather than needless provocations that expand an already long list of differences.

Source: The Hindu

Mains Question:

Q. Analyze internal security threats and trans-border conflicts along Line of Actual Control. [150 Words].