The following is a guest post by Tariq Ahmad, a foreign law specialist in the Global Legal Research Directorate of the Law Library of Congress, to which I contributed. Tariq has previously authored posts on Islamic Law in Pakistan – Global Legal Collection Highlights, the Law Library’s 2013 Panel Discussion on Islamic Law, Sedition Law in India, and FALQ posts on Proposals to Reform Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws and Article 370 and the Removal of Jammu and Kashmir’s Special Status.
In the last few months, there have been a number of skirmishes and stand-offs between Chinese and Indian military forces along disputed and settled parts of the Sino-Indian border. The most significant escalation took place in mid-June in high-altitude ridges of the Galwan Valley in the Himalayan region along the 2,100 mile long disputed Line of Actual Control (LAC). The LAC is a loose line of demarcation of the disputed area that is divided into three sectors, and its western sector separates the Indian-controlled territory of eastern Ladakh from the Chinese-administered territory of Aksai Chin (which is also claimed by India).
Failure to resolve the border dispute resulted in the 1962 Sino-Indian War and there has been no final agreement between the countries on the exact location of the LAC. According to Alyssa Ayres, a South Asia expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, “China and India have differing ideas of where it should be located, leading to regular border “transgressions.” Often these don’t escalate tensions; a serious border standoff like the current one is less frequent, though this is the fourth since 2013.”
The June 15th border clash was reported to have happened during an apparent “de-escalation process” weeks after “high-level military commanders from both nations” agreed on June 6th to “peacefully resolve the situation in the border areas in accordance with various bilateral agreements.” The clash on the ridge reportedly involved hand-to-hand combat with iron bars, rocks, and fists, leading to the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers and an undisclosed number of Chinese soldiers. While neither side carried guns, most of the soldiers killed in the fighting lost their footing or were knocked from the narrow Himalayan ridge, plunging to their deaths. These are the first deaths along the LAC since 1975.
Though the exact details of the June 15th clash and the reasons for why things have “escalated now to their worst in decades” are a bit unclear, some experts have pointed to a number of factors, including both sides claiming violations of pre-existing agreements, military buildup and infrastructure/road developments in proximity of the LAC, and the revocation of the autonomous status of Jammu & Kashmir by the Indian government which resulted in the establishment of the Union Territory of Ladakh, as contributing to the current impasse. Senior Indian and Chinese military commanders are currently in their fourth round of talks to “negotiate the next stage of disengagement between the two armies along the Line of Actual Control (LAC),” in an attempt to “reduce tensions along the disputed border.” Diplomatic level talks and negotiations have also been conducted by the Special Representatives (SRs) on the Boundary Question, which was established in 2003, and the Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC), created in 2012.
Since the 1962 war, the two countries have entered into various bilateral agreements as Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) to prevent the situation from escalating, including the much-reported 1996 agreement and the “prevalent practice” of not using guns near the LAC that flows from this and other agreements. Below we have outlined the various bilateral agreements and the authoritative government and international sources where they can be accessed:
- 1993 Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control in the Sino-Indian Border
Signed in Beijing on September 7, 1993, available on the treaty database of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in English, Chinese, and Hindi. All three texts have equal validity. A copy in English is also available on the UN Peacemaker database. According to a summary on the UN Peacemaker website, this agreement provides the “framework for border security between the parties until final determination is made regarding border demarcation.” The parties agree to keep “military forces in the areas along the line of actual control to a minimum level” and “reduce troop levels” compatible with friendly and good relations between them. (Art. 2.) They also agree to carry out confidence-building measures along the LAC control, including by providing prior notification of “military exercises of specified levels near the line of actual control permitted under this Agreement.” (Art. 2.)
- 1996 Agreement between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of China on Confidence-Building Measures in the Military Field along the Line of Actual Control in the Sino-Indian Border
Signed in New Delhi on November 29, 1996, available on the Chinese MFA treaty database in English, Chinese, and Hindi. English copies and summaries of the agreement are also available on the UN Peacemaker database and the University of Edinburgh’s PA-X Peace Agreement Database. According to the UN Peacemaker website, the agreement allows for “military disclosure when the parties are undertaking border exercises and for the reduction of troop levels in the border areas. It also allows the parties to observe and inspect troop movements in each other territory upon invitation.” In this agreement, the two sides agreed to reduce or limit their military forces within mutually-agreed geographical zones along the LAC. It specifies the major categories of armaments to be reduced or limited: “combat tanks, infantry combat vehicles, guns (including howitzers) with 75 mm or bigger calibre, mortars with 120 mm or bigger calibre, surface-to-surface missiles, surface-to-air missiles and any other weapon system mutually agreed upon.” (Art. 3.) It also stipulates that “[n]either side shall open fire, cause bio-degradation, use hazardous chemicals, conduct blast operations or hunt with guns or explosives within two kilometers from the line of actual control.” (Art. 6.)
- 2005 Protocol on the Modalities for the Implementation of Confidence-Building Measures in the Military Field along the Line of Actual Control in the Sino-Indian Border
Signed in New Delhi on April 11, 2005, the English text of the Protocol can be found on the Government of India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Media Center’s Bilateral/Multilateral Documents page. A copy and summary of the Protocol can also be found on the UN Peacemaker database and the PA-X Peace Agreement Database. The Protocol seeks to implement previous agreements and “agreed on modalities to implement the confidence building measures including through procedures for exchange of information regarding troop movements and the conduct of bi-annual meetings on border issues. They also agreed to resolve any agreement violation or need for clarification through diplomatic channels.”
- 2005 Agreement between the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Government of the Republic of India on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the China-India Boundary Question
Signed in New Delhi on April 11, 2005, available on the Chinese MFA treaty database in English, Chinese, and Hindi. The English text of the agreement can also be found on the Indian MEA Indian Treaties Database. Article 1 states that “[t]he differences on the boundary question should not be allowed to affect the overall development of bilateral relations. The two sides will resolve the boundary question through peaceful and friendly consultations.”
- 2012 Establishment of a Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on China-India Border Affairs
Signed in New Delhi on January 17, 2012, available on the Chinese MFA treaty database in English, Chinese, and Hindi. The English text of the agreement can also be found on Indian MEA’s Indian Treaties Database. The two sides agree to establish the WMCC to deal with important border affairs related to maintaining peace and tranquility in the India-China border areas. (Art. 1.) The WMCC will be headed by a Joint Secretary level official from the Indian MEA and a Director General level official from the Chinese MFA and will be composed of diplomatic and military officials of the two sides. (Art. 2.)
- 2013 Border Defense Cooperation Agreement between India and China
Signed in Beijing on October 23, 2013. An English text of the Agreement can be found on the Indian MEA’s Media Center as well as the UN Peacemaker Database. According to Ankit Panda at The Diplomat, the 10-article agreement enumerates several mechanisms to reduce misunderstandings and improve communications between the two countries along their disputed border. Article VI explicitly prohibits one side from actively following or tailing the patrols of another side. Articles VI, VII, and VIII each explicitly outline procedures for resolving disputes in “areas where there is no common understanding of the line of actual control.”