Earlier this month, India and China once again reached a peace agreement in response to military tensions along their shared border. The agreement, which took place while representatives were participating in a regional security summit meeting in Russia, is in response to recent conflict between the two nations. The conflict began in June of this year, during which 20 Indian soldiers were killed along with an unspecified number of Chinese military personnel. While representatives from both China and India agreed to step back from the conflict in the spring, these promises ultimately failed, and resulted in violence only a few months later. On September 7, shots were fired along the border between the two nations. This was the first occurrence of shots being fired in the conflicted zone in 45 years. It is not verified whether shots were initiated by China or India.
The most recent agreement reached by the Foreign Ministers Wang Yi, of China, and Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, of India, was successful in reiterating the importance of previous agreements, particularly in terms of the maintaining open communication and the prohibition of firearms. However, the agreement failed to overcome the biggest issues that faced the failed 1993 and 1996 agreements, which explicitly stated that “no activities of either side shall overstep the line of actual control.” Once again, this most recent agreement failed to get to the crux of the issues: the debate surrounding the exact location of the border between the two nations.
While China and India share relatively little border space, with Nepal acting as a barrier between the borders of much of the two nations, tensions have been high for several months. Starting in May, China accused India of constructing roads and other defensive structures near the border between the two nations, a vaguely defined area known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Concurrently, India accused China of allowing Chinese soldiers to advance over the LAC into Indian territory.
This issue mirrors that of a border conflict between the two nations in 2013, a 3-week long standoff that ended once China agreed to dismantle military structures near the LAC. In October of that year, the two nations signed a border defense cooperation agreement to mitigate future armed conflict along the border.
The LAC was formed after the Sino-Indian War in 1962 and resides between the union territory of Ladakh, which is in the Kashmir region of India, and the border of the Tibet Autonomous Region, which is controlled by China. Kashmir has been a hotly disputed territory since 1947, when the British partitioned colonial British India into India and Pakistan largely across religious lines, with Pakistan containing a predominantly Muslim population and India containing a Muslim minority. Today, control of the region is divided among three separate countries: India, China, and Pakistan, making it a region wrought with tension.
This contention and the ambiguity of the border is one of the greatest issues facing the region. According to retired Indian General Singh, “At strategic and operational levels, both militaries have exercised restraint… However, at the tactical level, face-offs occur due to differing perceptions of where the actual border is as the LAC is not delineated on the ground. While face-offs get resolved locally, those related to the building of infrastructure, such as roads and defense fortifications, invariably take longer and require a combination of military and diplomatic initiatives.”
The solution to this continued issue is deceptively simple. China and India need to come together and formally recognize an exact delineation between the two states. Without this agreement, skirmishes between the two nations will inevitably persist. While it is easy to be optimistic in the face of this accord, the precedence within the region calls for pragmatism. The agreements of 1993, 1996, and 2013 regarding the border dispute all failed due to a similar root cause of ambiguity. In any border issue, discussions and agreements such as this one are important, however, until real action is taken in place of temporary accords centered on ceasefires, long-term peace within will be impossible.
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