Line of Actual Control (LAC) And Galwan Valley
Borders are the demarcation between the countries. Territorial disputes have occurred throughout history, over lands around the world. There are four kind of border disputes- positional disputes; territorial disputes; cultural disputes; and resource disputes.
Location of Galwan Valley
The Galwan valley is the part of land between the steep mountains that buffet the Galwan river. The source of Galwan river is in Aksai Chin on China’s side of the LAC, and it flows from the east to Ladakh, where it meets the Shyok river on India’s side of the LAC.
The Galwan valley is deliberately located between Ladakh in the west and Aksai Chin in the east, which is currently controlled by China as part of its Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. At its western end, are the Shyok river and the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulet Beg Oldie (DSDBO) road. Its eastern mouth lies not far from China’s vital Xinjiang Tibet road, now called the G219 highway.
Meaning of Line of Actual Control
The Line of Actual Control (LAC) is the demarcation that separates Indian-controlled territory from Chinese-controlled territory. India considers the LAC to be 3,488 km long, while the Chinese consider it to be only around 2,000 km.
The LAC is divided into three sectors:
- The eastern sector which spans Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim
- The middle sector in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh
- The western sector in Ladakh
What disagreement is
The LAC is positioned in the eastern sector along the 1914 McMahon Line. Also, there are minor disputes about the positions on the ground as per the principle of the high Himalayan watershed. This pertains to India’s international boundary as well, but for certain areas such as Longju and Asaphila. The line in the middle sector is the least controversial but for the precise alignment to be followed in the Barahoti plains.
The major disagreements are in the western sector where the LAC emerged from two letters written by Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai to PM Jawaharlal Nehru in 1959, after he had first mentioned such a ‘line’ in 1956. In his letter, Zhou said the 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”. Shiv Shankar Menon has explained in his book Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy that the LAC was “described only in general terms on maps not to scale” by the Chinese.
After the 1962 War, the Chinese claimed that they had withdrawn to 20 km behind the LAC on November 1959. Zhou clarified the LAC again after the war in another letter to Nehru: “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”. During the Doklam crisis in 2017, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson urged India to abide by the “1959 LAC”.
India’s response to China’s designation of the LAC
India rejected the concept of LAC in both 1959 as well as 1962. Even during the war, Nehru was unequivocal: “There is no sense or meaning in the Chinese offer to withdraw twenty kilometres from what they call ‘line of actual control’. What is this ‘line of control’? Is this the line they have created by aggression since the beginning of September?”
India’s objection, as described by Menon, was that the Chinese line “was a disconnected series of points on a map that could be joined up in many ways; the line should skip gains from aggression in 1962 and therefore should be based on the actual position on September 8, 1962 before the Chinese attack; and the ambiguity of the Chinese definition left it open for China to continue its creeping attempt to change facts on the ground by military force”.
Acceptance of the LAC by India
Shyam Saran has disclosed in his book “How India Sees the World” that the LAC was discussed during Chinese Premier Li Peng’s 1991 visit to India, where PM P V Narasimha Rao and Li reached an understanding to maintain peace and tranquillity at the LAC. India formally accepted the concept of the LAC when Rao paid a return visit to Beijing in 1993 and the two sides signed the Agreement to Maintain Peace and Tranquillity at the LAC. The reference to the LAC was unqualified to make it clear that it was not referring to the LAC of 1959 or 1962 but to the LAC at the time when the agreement was signed. To reconcile the differences about some areas, the two countries agreed that the Joint Working Group on the border issue would take up the task of clarifying the alignment of the LAC.
India change its stance on the Line of Actual Control
As per Menon, it was needed because Indian and Chinese patrols were coming in more frequent contact during the mid-1980s, after the government formed a China Study Group in 1976 which revised the patrolling limits, rules of engagement and pattern of Indian presence along the border.
In the backdrop of the Sumdorongchu standoff, when PM Rajiv Gandhi visited Beijing in 1988, Menon observed that the two sides agreed to negotiate a border settlement, and pending that, they would maintain peace and tranquillity along the border.
Have India and China exchanged their maps of the LAC?
Maps were “shared” for the western sector but never formally exchanged, and the process of clarifying the LAC has effectively stalled since 2002. As an aside, there is no publicly available map depicting India’s version of the LAC.
During his visit to China in May 2015, PM Narendra Modi’s proposal to clarify the LAC was rejected by the Chinese. Deputy Director General of the Asian Affairs at the Foreign Ministry, Huang Xilian later told Indian journalists that “We tried to clarify some years ago but it encountered some difficulties, which led to even complex situation. That is why whatever we do we should make it more conducive to peace and tranquillity for making things easier and not to make them complicated.”
Difference between the LAC and the LoC
The LoC (Line of Control) emerged from the 1948 ceasefire line negotiated by the UN after the Kashmir War. It was designated as the LoC in 1972, following the Shimla Agreement between the two countries. It is delineated on a map signed by DGMOs of both armies and has the international sanctity of a legal agreement. The LAC, in contrast, is only a concept and is not agreed upon by the two countries, neither outlined on a map nor demarcated on the ground.