Border dispute and Security issues

Beijing’s insistence that the boundary dispute should not be privileged is a product of its past success, where it could continue to keep up the pressure on the border even as other aspects of engagement developed to its advantage, writes Harsh Pant

The Sino-Indian border dispute is an on-going territorial dispute over the sovereignty of two relatively large, and several smaller, separated pieces of territory between China and India.


Aksai Chin is administered by China as part of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Tibet Autonomous Region and claimed by India as part of the union territory of Ladakh.


Chinese and the Sikhs signed a treaty in September 1842, which stipulated no transgressions or interference in the other country’s frontier. The British defeat of the Sikhs in 1846 resulted in transfer of sovereignty over Ladakh to the British which was satisfied that a traditional border was recognised and defined by natural elements. Hence a largely undefined area –Aksai Chin- lay between Pangong Lake and Karakoram Pass.

H. Johnson, a civil servant with the Survey of India proposed the “Johnson Line” in 1865, which put Aksai Chin in Jammu and Kashmir. Then China did not control Xinjiang, so this line was never presented to the Chinese.

The McMahon Line is the demarcation line agreed between Tibet and British Raj as part of the 1914 Simla Convention, separating their respective spheres of influence in the eastern Himalayan region along northeast India and northern Burma (Myanmar). The Republic of China was not a party to the agreement, but its representative had agreed the overall boundary of Tibet, which included the McMahon Line.



British India annexed Assam in north-eastern India in 1826, by Treaty of Yandabo at the conclusion of the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824–1826). After subsequent Anglo-Burmese Wars, the whole of Burma was annexed giving the British a border with China’s Yunan province. In 1913–14, representatives of Britain, China, and Tibet attended a conference in Simla, India and drew up an agreement concerning Tibet’s status and borders.

In News: Frequent clashes between PLA and Indian army near LAC

The motivations for the People’s Liberation Army’s initial moves:

  1. A Chinese effort to incrementally salami-slice or nibble its way to additional territory and present India with a fait accompli;
  2. Concerns about Indian infrastructure building;
  3. Delhi changing the status of Ladakh (separating it from Jammu & Kashmir, and centrally administering it);
  4. As a warning against India further deepening its relations with the U.S. and its allies.

On the Chinese actions against India, former Indian national security advisor and ambassador to China Shivshankar Menon has suggested Xi Jinping has acted out of insecurity, given domestic concern and international criticism of his COVID mismanagement, noting that “China has a pattern of risk-taking behavior at times of domestic crisis.”



  1. If its goals were to acquire territory and consolidate its claims, presenting India with a fait accompli and changing the LAC, it might deem the moves a success.
  2. If Beijing’s objectives were to stop or dissuade Indian infrastructure building on its side of the LAC, reverse Indian moves in Ladakh, or deter Delhi from a closer relationship with the US and other partners, then the Chinese moves have been ineffective


Way Forward:

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar recently said  that a recognition of “mutual respect, mutual sensitivities and mutual interests” was key to repairing India-China relations.

  1. Agreements already reached must be adhered to in their entirety, both in letter and in spirit.
  2. Strictly observe and respect the LAC, and any attempt to unilaterally change the status quo was completely unacceptable.
  3. Peace and tranquillity in border areas was the basis for the development of the relationship in other domains.
  4. While both remain committed to a multipolar world, they should recognise that a multipolar Asia was one of its essential constituents.