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China’s Assertion of 1959 LAC – Irrational Ambiguity

Published Sep 30, 2020
Updated Sep 30, 2020

China’s reassertion of 1959 LAC creates ambiguity by relying on a disjointed line which cannot be physically defined on the ground and adds to uncertainty due to an irrational approach after spending decades in attempting to resolve the boundary tangle by both sides. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed that Beijing follows the Line of Actual Control (LAC) proposed by Premier Zhou Enlai to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in a letter on November 7, 1959, as reported by the Hindustan Times which has referred to a one on one response to the Paper in Mandarin on September 28. 

“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 on September 25 as per the Hindustan Times. 

“However, ever since this year, the Indian Army has continued to arrive and illegally cross the border, unilaterally expanding the scope of actual control. This is the source of tension on the border issues. The key to disengagement between the two armies is India’s withdrawal of all illegal cross-border personnel and equipment,” it added.

This is the second time in recent years that a reference to the 1959 LAC has been made. In 2017 during the Doklam crisis, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying spoke of the “1959 LAC” while providing information of a physical clash between India and Chinese soldiers near Pangong lake in Ladakh in August that year.

The Letter referred to by then-Premier Zhou to Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said, “In order to maintain effectively the status quo of the border between the two countries, to ensure the tranquillity of the border regions and to create a favourable atmosphere for a friendly settlement of the boundary question, the Chinese government proposes that the armed forces of China and India each withdraw 20km at once from the so-called McMahon Line in the east, and from the line up to which each side exercises actual control in the west.” 

        Zhou wrote, “To put it concretely, in the eastern sector it coincides in the main with the so- called McMahon Line, and in the western and middle sectors it coincides in the main with the traditional customary line which has consistently been pointed out by China”, Zhou said in reply to Nehru.

        Furthermore, in 1960, Zhou had used the phrase “LAC” during a press conference during his visit to Delhi. “There exists between the two counties a line of actual control up to which each side exercises administrative jurisdiction,” he said as part of a six-point proposal to maintain peace at the border. Nehru, however, rejected the definition. “There is no sense or meaning in the Chinese offer to withdraw twenty kilometers from what they call ‘line of actual control,” he said.  

        The phrase LAC was then used in the 1993 Sino-India “Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and tranquillity along the LAC in the India-China Border Areas.” 

Indian Ministry of External Affairs in a Statement on September 29, strongly refuted the Chinese statement. The Official Spokesperson Shri Anurag Srivastava 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”.

India rejected the Zhou Line as it lacked uniformity and only connected disjointed points on the mountainous border that could be joined based on interpretation by both sides to their advantage. India, on the other hand, has sought to define the LAC based on the actual position on September 8, 1962, before the Chinese operations.

Impact Analysis

Looking beyond the current impasse on the India China Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh, the proposal implies a swap of accepting the Chinese claims in Eastern Ladakh to those in Arunachal Pradesh.

This could be roughly the package deal proposal that has been doing the rounds in the past and could result to a permanent solution to the India China boundary.

This would imply India giving up rightful ownership of territory in the Aksai Chin in Jammu and Kashmir to settle China’s perceived assertion in Arunachal Pradesh. No Indian government will have the political gumption for the passage of an act in the parliament as this will go against the resolution by the house.

Will Beijing be satiated with this arrangement and not raise ghosts of the past as it has done this time around is a major risk given the Chinese record of settlement of boundary issues.

Finally the Pandora’s box of Jammu and Kashmir will be thrown open.

On the other hand ambiguity raised by a line which connects features which have not been well defined on the ground only adds to uncertainty through an irrational approach after spending decades in attempting to resolve the boundary tangle by both sides.