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LAC not ripe for settlement
5/16/2015 12:19:24 AM
Claude Arpi

A solution probably
favoured by
Beijing would be to 'exchange' Aksai Chin against recognition of Arunachal as being a part of India... If India does agree, would the border issue be resolved? No!
Invariably, when an Indian Prime Minister goes to China or a senior Chinese leader visits India, the Indian media goes berserk speculating, "this time" the border dispute between the two Asian giants will be resolved.
Unfortunately, it is not an easy proposition.
We have recently seen that it takes time and patience to solve differences, even for a relatively minor dispute, like the one between Bangladesh and India. The Sino-Indian divergences are major.
The Chinese are not completely wrong when they say that the border imbroglio has been "inherited from history". But, while Beijing cites British imperialism, the facts are different: there was no "border issue" between India and Tibet before 1951 simply because the Roof of the World was a peaceful independent state. Unfortunately for India, the then Prime Minister was a romantic.
In the early 1950s, having swiftly taken control of Tibet, the People's Liberation Army progressively stopped the age-old trade and exchanges between India and the Dalai Lama's land. China even built a road on Indian territory (without Nehru's government noticing it); the stakes brutally changed and the border gradually became "disputed".
By the end of the decade, despite the Panchsheel Agreement ("on trade and intercourse between Tibet Region of China and India") signed in April 1954, the traditional "soft" border between India and Tibet (now China) became real, concrete, tangible, sensitive and eventually the object of a "border war" in 1962.
It had not always been like this. For centuries, a constant flow of Tibetan lamas had visited the great Indian viharas of Nalanda, Odantapuri and Vikramasila, while trade across the Himalayan belt prospered. After Tibet had opted for the non-violent doctrine, Buddhism, in the 7th century, it is fascinating to look at the changes in the people of Tibet who were among the most belligerent on earth.
Their powerful empire, which had spread far and wide, suddenly turned pacifist, and another kind of conquest started - the conquest of self. Tibetan Buddhism spread its "soft" influence over Central Asia and Mongolia. The Himalaya, a most formidable natural barrier, which separates the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan plateau, remained vibrantly porous till the arrival of the Chinese troops on the Roof of the World.
On November 7, 1959, in a letter addressed to Jawaharlal Nehru, Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai used for the first time a new terminology. He wrote that the Line of Actual Control (LAC) consisted of "the so-called McMahon Line in the East and the line up to which each side exercises actual control in the West."
The term "LAC" became a legal concept in the Sino-Indian agreements signed in 1993 and 1996, 2012 and 2013. The 1996 agreement states, "No activities of either side shall overstep the line of actual control."
But that is not all. To complicate the issue further, another term has recently appeared in the diplomats' jargon: "a perceptional border" because India and China have different perceptions of where their LAC lies. Moreover, China refuses to share with India the maps of its perception.
Today, the more than 4,000 km-long LAC, is divided in three sectors: the western sector (Ladakh in Jammu & Kashmir), the middle sector (Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh) and the eastern sector (Sikkim and Arunachal). All have large or small disputed areas. A solution probably favoured by Beijing would be to "exchange" the Aksai Chin area in Ladakh, vital for China, as it links Tibet and Xinjiang, against Arunachal Pradesh that is claimed by Beijing.
A few years ago, Lorenz Lüthi of McGill University in Montreal wrote a well-researched paper (Sino-Indian Relations, 1954-1962) based on archival documents. He said: "In the spring of 1960 China was ready to find a compromise settlement… the PRC usually was willing to settle border disputes with neighbors through a compromise when it was internationally isolated and internally weak."
Lüthi wrote that when Mao's regime was in the midst of the great famine, which followed the Great Leap Forward, "internal documentation suggests that the PRC wanted to insist on its claim to Aksai Chin for strategic reasons, but Beijing probably was willing to let the territory of NEFA (today Arunachal) go". China is not weak anymore; it will not make any compromise. During the several rounds of detailed talks on the border issue which followed Zhou Enlai's visit in Delhi in April 1960, no matter what evidence India produced, it was clear that the Chinese would never relinquish the Aksai Chin artery. If India does agree and receive from Beijing in return for such a "gift" the recognition of Arunachal Pradesh as being a part of India, would the border issue be resolved? No!
Supposing that with a magic wand, Prime Minister Narendra Modi convinces President Xi Jinping to agree to "settle" the border dispute, will the Himalayan passes return to the situation ante 1951, when trade and cultural exchanges flourished between Tibet and India? Again the answer is no.
Will China accept to reopen the Himalayan routes which were closed in 1962, namely Demchok (Ladakh), Shipka-la (Himachal Pradesh), Mana and Niti pass (Uttarakhand), Jelep-la (West Bengal), and others routes in Arunachal Pradesh such as Kibithu (Anjaw district), Bumla (Tawang district) Menchuka, Manigong (West Siang district) and Gelling-Tuting (Upper Siang district)? Again, no.
Will China agree to reopen an Indian consulate general in Lhasa and trade agencies in Gyantse, Yatung and Gartok (Ngari), all of which were functional till 1962? No!
Will the cultural and religious exchange between the Buddhist monasteries in Tibet and those in Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim or Arunachal Pradesh be allowed, as was the case in the past? No.
Will Beijing accept to have a frank discussion on the Tibet issue and the fate of the Tibetan refugees in India? Absolutely not.
Before a holistic settlement is found, the border agreements of January 2012 and October 2013 are probably good enough to keep the status quo and peace on the LAC (or LACs).
Why should India compromise her position for a solution that will not bring the Himalayas back as a dynamic passage between the Tibetan world and the subcontinent? Zhou Enlai cleverly said in the early 1950s, "the border issue is not ripe for settlement". Mr Modi should say the same when he visits China later this week.
The writer is based in South India for the past 40 years. He writes on India, China, Tibet and Indo-French relations.
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