Context: Ladakh, a cold, dry, high altitude territory with its extremely scarce vegetation is a point of disagreement between India and China.
- In July 1958, an official monthly magazine in China named China pictorial published a map of the country that would in the next few months become a bone of contention between India and its East Asian neighbour.
- The map in question showed large parts of the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) and the Himalayan territory of Ladakh as part of China.
- The publication had been preceded with the Chinese building a road linking parts of Ladakh with Xinjiang, an autonomous region in China, and Tibet, which was by then under Chinese control.
- ‘China pictorial’ came out with the new Chinese map, the leaders of both countries began writing to each other frequently regarding Ladakh.
- The exchange of letters between Jawaharlal Nehru and his Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai was followed by the Sino-Indian war of 1962.
- The war also led to the formation of the loosely demarcated Line of Actual Control (LAC) running through Ladakh.
- The major disagreements are in the western sector.
- After the 1962 War, the Chinese claimed they had withdrawn to 20 km behind the LAC of November 1959.
What was India’s response to China’s designation of the LAC?
- India rejected the concept of LAC in both 1959 and 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’.
- India stated Chinese line “was a disconnected series of points on a map that could be joined up in many ways; the line should omit gains from aggression in 1962 and therefore should be based on the actual position on September 8, 1962 before the Chinese attack
When did India accept the LAC?
- India formally accepted the concept of the LAC 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.
Why did India change its stance on the Line of Actual Control?
- 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.
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.
Is the LAC also the claim line for both countries?
- India’s claim line is the line seen in the official boundary marked on the maps as released by the Survey of India, including both Aksai Chin and Gilgit-Baltistan. In China’s case, it corresponds mostly to its claim line, but in the eastern sector, it claims entire Arunachal Pradesh as South Tibet.
But why are these claim lines controversial in Ladakh?
- Independent India was transferred the treaties from the British, and while the Shimla Agreement on the McMahon Line was signed by British India, Aksai Chin in Ladakh province of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir was not part of British India, although it was a part of the British Empire.
- Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s Ministry of States published two White Papers on Indian states. The first, in July 1948, had two maps: one had no boundary shown in the western sector, only a partial colour wash;
- the second one extended the colour wash in yellow to the entire state of J&K, but mentioned “boundary undefined”.
- The second White Paper was published in February 1950 after India became a Republic, where the map again had boundaries which were undefined.
- In July 1954, Nehru issued a directive that “all our old maps dealing with this frontier should be carefully examined and, where necessary, withdrawn.
How is the LAC different from the Line of Control with Pakistan?
- The LoC 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 – it is not agreed upon by the two countries, neither delineated on a map or demarcated on the ground.