On Sino-Indian Border, Status-Quo Unacceptable
Image Credit: REUTERS/Peng Sun/Pool

On Sino-Indian Border, Status-Quo Unacceptable


During what was sure to be his last trip to China before national elections next year, on October 23 Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh inked a new agreement with China to improve management of the longest disputed border in the world. The resulting Border Defense and Cooperation Agreement (BDCA) is designed to reduce tensions at the Himalayan border that brought China and India to war in 1962 and has served as an irritant in bilateral relations ever since. As recently as this spring the border was the site of a contentious standoff when a Chinese border patrol set up camp several miles across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Ladakh sector of Jammu and Kashmir.

Unfortunately, the final text of the BDCA was decidedly uninspiring. It brought the two sides no closer to a final settlement and did little to advance the more modest goal of improving border management. Restating previously agreed-to principles, the BDCA merely commits the two sides to non-specific “periodic meetings” of military and civilian officers. They agreed to avoid having border patrols “tail” each other through unspecified means; they “may consider” establishing a hotline between military headquarters in both countries; and they agreed to cooperate “in combating natural disasters or infectious diseases.”  

India and China have held over two dozen rounds of border talks since negotiations began in 1981. A pair of meaningful agreements reached in 1993 and 1996 created a durable framework to manage the disputed border but progress has been slow-going ever since. In 2003, the two sides appointed high-ranking “Special Representatives” (China’s State Councilor and India’s National Security Advisor) to reinvigorate the process, but after signing a modest border protocol in 2005 the talks have remained largely deadlocked.

Chinese and Indian officials interviewed by this writer over the past two years were decidedly pessimistic about the prospects for near- or mid-term resolution to the territorial dispute. In 2010 Premier Wen Jiabao raised hackles in Delhi when he admitted the dispute would take “a very long time” to resolve. “Even if we somehow miraculously get a resolution, we still have problems [with India] in Tibet, in Pakistan, in the Indian Ocean. So why try so hard? It seems every time we try and solve the dispute it only makes things worse,” Ye Hailin, the Deputy Director for South Asia at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences told this writer over the summer. Privately, Indian diplomats have lamented the two sides are “no closer to a resolution than we were 50 years ago.”

Yet with no prospect of another conflict on the immediate horizon, what’s wrong with the status quo? Indian military analyst Ajai Shukla says the border could be “model for international disputes.” In contrast to the bloody exchanges that haunt the India-Pakistan Line of Control (LOC) in Kashmir, the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has been virtually free of violence for 40 years. The last major military confrontation there dates back to 1967, and the last fatal cross-border incident was in 1975 (though the two sides did come perilously close to conflict during a bout of military brinksmanship 1987).

Yet to this writer the status quo raises three distinct concerns. The first relates to the subtle arms race now taking place at the border. When Beijing initially floated the idea of a BDCA late last year, it was designed to institute a freeze on military and infrastructure projects along the LAC. While admirable in theory, in practice a freeze would enshrine a substantial Chinese advantage at the LAC in terms of civilian and military infrastructure – an advantage that has widened over the past two decades as China has gone on a spending spree in Tibet. 

For decades a perverse logic prevailed among Indian strategists, counseling against developing its border areas lest the improved infrastructure facilitate another Chinese invasion. Even today many Indian border posts can only be reached by air or via a grueling, days-long trek through mountain passes closed for half the year.

In 2006 Delhi abruptly reversed this longstanding doctrine with the introduction of a major road-building program for the border areas. Three years later, Delhi announced that it would raise two new mountain divisions for the border, deploy its most advanced cruise missiles and fourth-generation fighters, and upgrade several airstrips and advanced landing grounds. Finally, this year Delhi green-lit the addition of a new strike corps for the eastern sector of the border dispute, the first offensive military formation India has deployed to the LAC in 50 years (India’s existing three strike corps are all at the Pakistan border).

For its part, Beijing has largely shrugged off the Indian deployments while quietly bolstering its own capabilities. In addition to China’s superior road and rail network in Tibet, it hosts 400,000 PLA soldiers in the two military regions opposite India. In recent years it has upgraded its arsenal of ballistic missiles, added several new airfields in Tibet, conducted increasingly robust military exercises with neighboring Pakistan, and boosted its long-range transport capability. And the advanced Chinese fighter aircraft now arriving in Tibet are far more capable of operating at extremely high altitudes than their predecessors.

February 8, 2014 at 10:28

Chinese trolls are out in force once again. Let’s look at some historical facts and China’s role in expanding its borders by claiming foreign territories. Also let’s examine the history of Chinese hostility towards India.

Here is the excerpt from wikipedia:
“Although the U.S. and other permanent Council members were not very supportive of expanding the Security Council, in his visit to India President Obama has offered his support for India to become a permanent member of the Council. However the reaction from other Council members are not very clear, particularly from China. Thus it is uncertain whether the demands by G4 nations will be implemented anytime soon.

Washington Post reported that “India was offered a permanent seat on the council 55 years ago, in 1955. But that offer, made by the United States and the Soviet Union, was declined by India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru said the seat should be given to China instead.”
This proves that Chinese communists have always been hostile to India and they wants their hegemony in Asia to continue.

Communist China does not really view other countries in Asia as equal. China under CCP is the new imperial Japan of 21st century. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. Such a shame that a beautiful culture of ancient Chinese people, has been hijacked by CCP and PLA warmongers. India can be friends with a democratic and peaceful China, not with the current ravenous military dictatorship rule in Beijing…Note that I differentiate between Chinese people and Chinese communist party. Common Indians and Chinese love and respect each other. It is the Chinese government which is the real problem. That’s because they were never officially elected by the people in a democratic election. Tibet was never a Chinese territory. Similarly Xinjiang was a part of East Turkmenistan. These are all buffer states which were annexed by the Chinese communists, by force and they feel no shame in claiming Indian territories.

November 22, 2013 at 02:29

Who’s “Dall llama”?

November 20, 2013 at 22:22

have you gone for survey . What about Dall llama …Are you in this world or uganda….

November 20, 2013 at 17:25

The sooner India gives up its illegitimate claims over territories east of the Chicken Neck, the better and faster India can develop its economy. Face it, people living east of the Chicken Neck are Tibetans, Burmese, Chinese, … not Indians. They don’t want to be part of India. The Indian government can’t even handle a Commonwealth Games properly. Why grab territories that don’t belong to India, and subject people to India’s corrupt, incompetent rule?

November 10, 2013 at 11:53

Please do not lie to the world and get an education on the correct history.  India did not have a vote before occupying South Tibet (North East Frontier Agency). 

November 10, 2013 at 11:30

Your claim that if China is 11 times the size of Japan, in terms of POPULATION, that could lead to a Chinese lead over Japan, ARE A MERE POOR ANALYSIS. You only point to a "China growing steadily", that will end soon before 2020 you will see, as an credible evidence of Chinese strength, BUT China is changing rapidly as Shanghai Composite has shown recently with insurance, healthcare, IT and green energy companies obtaining the best gains in the index. The same applies to Shenzhen Index. This means that China is beginning to change economically as happened in Japan since 1992 when INSURANCE, TI, HEALTHCARE AND GREEN ENERGY companies led in terms of stock market value gains among Nikkei listed companies. Also, China is a rapidly aging country that NOW it's beginning to feel the negative impact of declining LABOR FORCE, rising wages, rising social welfare costs and rising government budget deficits because of DECLINING POPULATION, declining LABOR FORCE and declining fiscal revenue. If China decided to start a trade war with Japan, in 2012, IT IS NOT because of a "Chinese wise decision" to weaken Japan but an urgent task by Beijing rulers in the wake of imminent decline in yen value that would invert the trade dynamics between China and Japan, from trade surplus in favor of China to a trade surplus in favor of Japan. In other words, China knew that, soon or later, Japanese goods would be CHEAPER AND CHEAPER than Chinese and Korean goods because of CURRENCY. Since Dec. 2012 Japanese yen has decline 18% against US Dollar, a depreciation unprecedented in at least 20 years. Now, China maintains a trade surplus with Japan, but weaker than before and it was only thanks to trade war tactics by Beijing. But, it doesn't matter because Japanese trade with the World have seen important improvements this half fiscal year in Japan, even Japanese companies have seen huge stock market gains not seen since 2007. In 2050, China will share podium with Japan as the most aged country in Asia, because China and Japan will have 40% of their population over 60 years. And, Chinese aging population will mean an ABRUPT END to fiscal stability and the beginning of a Chinese endebted endeavour to social stability with the purpose of AVERT a CCP TOTALITARIAN REGIME COLLAPSE as we seen before 1991 when Communist countries and USSR began to collapse becuase of weak economy and TOTALITARIAN REGIME delegitimization. Soon, your DEAR CCP leadership will be killed during a military uprising as we seen in Ceausescu's Romania in 1989, thanks to ECONOMIC COLLAPSE. ELasker you lack of broad view to analyze Chinese and World economic changes, so you are NOT suitable to give lectures about the weaknesses and strengths of China and Japan.      

November 10, 2013 at 07:20

You are overly focused on Japan while the article discussed Inida and the CCP-PRC.

My experience in the CCP-PRC informed me very clearly that the Chinese detest Japan and have contempt of India. Today in your posts your detestation trumps your contempt as you focus very much on Japan and the CCP-PRC.

Irredentism runs strongly in the Chinese culture..


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