Former envoys slam Beijing for invoking old LAC perception

LAC webview map hawk eye view
Satellite image shows close up view of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) border and patrol point 14 in the eastern Ladakh sector of Galwan Valley on June 22, 2020. (Maxar Technologies via Reuters )

 China’s efforts to base the resolution of the boundary dispute with India on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) proposed by premier Zhou Enlai in 1959 are untenable as that does not conform with the actual situation on the ground, two former ambassadors involved in the border talks said on Tuesday.

The external affairs ministry said on Tuesday that India has never accepted the unilaterally defined 1959 LAC and stressed that crucial agreements with China committed both sides to confirming and clarifying the alignment of the boundary.

Former foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, who played a key role in negotiations that led to the signing of the Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the LAC in 1993, described the Chinese foreign ministry’s reference to the 1959 LAC as a “red herring”.

Menon has highlighted several problems with the 1959 proposal in a chapter of his 2016 book Choices devoted to the 1993 agreement. The Chinese side described the so-called LAC of 1959 “only in general terms on maps not to scale”, and the “Chinese concept was a disconnected series of points on a map that could be joined up in many ways”, he wrote.

He also argued that the “vagueness of the Chinese definition left it open for China to continue its creeping attempt to change facts on the ground by military force” – something that experts contend has happened in the Ladakh sector of the LAC during the current standoff.

“The fact is this is a red herring. Both sides know where the LAC is and have kept the peace for several decades. The 1959 LAC was never accepted by India. Why is it being brought up now?” said Menon, who served as the envoy to China during 2000-03 and as foreign secretary during 2006-09.

Also read: 1959 claim is wrong, but it punctures China’s theory, say experts

“It is being done to justify their behaviour and some people here are falling for it. The more we get into this discussion, the less sense it makes. The Chinese side changed the status quo and they should restore it,” he said.

Ashok Kantha, who served as India’s ambassador to China during 2014-16 and is currently director of the Institute of Chinese Studies, described the 1959 LAC as a “notional and fictional line with no basis in facts”.

“They have tried this in the past, and this notional LAC has been rejected by India, including during the 1993 negotiations,” said Kantha, who was involved in negotiations for the 1996 Agreement on Confidence Building Measures in the military field during his stint as director (China) in the external affairs ministry.

The reference to the 1959 LAC is in line with China’s attempts to maintain ambiguity about the alignment of the boundary instead of discussing differences in perception on the LAC, Kantha said.

Noting that article 10 of the 1996 agreement clearly states that the two sides would “exchange maps indicating their respective perceptions of the entire alignment of the Line of Actual Control as soon as possible”, he said India and China had only exchanged maps for the middle sector, whereas the maps for the western sector were shown but never shared.

“The Chinese side showed us their maps but then took them back, and so did we,” Kantha said, adding the Chinese side should instead resume the exercise of clarifying the LAC.

Menon also notes in his book that during the negotiations for the 1993 agreement, the Chinese side insisted on the LAC of 1959 and “that if there were any doubts, they would tell the Indians where the LAC lay”.

He wrote: “This arrogation was patently one-sided and unfair. Chinese Foreign Office mandarins seemed hard-pressed to justify this position to us, finally saying privately that they had no leeway as the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) were insistent.”