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Evaluation of India-China Border Disputes

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As a result of the agreement on September 9, 2022, it was announced that Indian and Chinese soldiers would withdraw from some disputed areas on the border.[1] It is important to investigate all border disputes in order to understand what this withdrawal, which took place on only one part of the border, means. Because the parties avoid any armed conflict along the border known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC) within the scope of the previously reached agreement. The border tension, which has not resulted in any deaths for over forty years, deteriorated after the incident that took place in the Galwan Valley on 15 June 2020, and bilateral relations were strained diplomatically and militarily after the clashes in which twenty Indian soldiers were killed and forty soldiers were taken prisoner.

Border Points of Dispute

The 3,488 km long India-China border can be divided into three sectors. These are Western Sector across Jammu and Kashmir State; Eastern Sector opposite Sikkim and Arunuchal Pradesh and Middle-Central Sector opposite Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. In all three sectors, India has unresolved border disputes with China. Although disputes on the Eastern and Western borders are

The border dispute in the eastern sector concerns the non-recognition of the McMahon Line by China. The border line in question was drawn by the agreement of the British-controlled Indian Government with the Tibetan Government in 1914. The said agreement is not accepted by China. Because China claims that Tibet does not have the sovereignty to sign such an agreement. China considers the whole of Arunachal Pradesh, which is now under the control of India, as part of Southern Tibet and rejects the McMahon Line.[2]  

The border dispute in the West concerns the regions of Ladakh , Aksai Chin and Demochek in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. In the war in 1962, China captured Aksai China and Demochek region. In addition, Pakistan ceded some of its border lands to China.

The middle sector refers to territory controlled by India and claimed by China. These areas are; Chumar, Kaurik, Shipki La, Nelang and Laptha are located in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. China claims that these areas are part of Tibet.

2020 Conflicts

The clashes on 15 June 2022 broke out over two Chinese bases and observation towers allegedly built on Indian side of Line of Control. According to New Delhi’s claim, a week before this conflict, the parties had reached an agreement to de-escalate tensions; however, Chinese troops breached the line, quickly setting up temporary “structures” in the Galwan Valley.

Clashes broke out as the Indian patrol approached the hill to confirm claim that Chinese troops had withdrawn. A large group of Chinese soldiers came face to face with Indian troops, and this encounter soon turned into an armed conflict. Chinese troops killed twenty Indian soldiers and wounded and captured dozens of soldiers. It is stated that this conflict, which resulted in death for the first time since 1975, has two main causes. The most important reason is seen as India’s repeal of Article 370, which provides autonomy to the State of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019. Thus, India gained full control in Ladakh, where it had a dispute with China. In addition, China is reacting to road construction and checkpoint construction in India’s border areas. Because China sees the 255 km Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) road built by India along the line of control as a threat to its interests in the region.[3]

Border Negotiations

The first serious negotiations on the India-China border began in 1960; but shortly after that, war broke out between the two countries in 1962. Similar border conflicts continued in 1967 as well. Bilateral relations remained frozen for years until diplomatic relations were re-established in 1979. As soon as diplomatic relations were re-established, both sides were engaged in border negotiations; however, without political will the ongoing negotiations have failed.

Although the format of the negotiations changed, the content remained the same and these negotiations continued until the conflict in 2020. In these meetings, names such as working groups, guiding principles, confidence-building measures, general frameworks, working mechanisms were used.[4]

There were 8 rounds of high-level meetings between 1981-1987, 14 joint working group meetings between 1988-2002, and 17 meetings between special representatives between 2003-2020. After the conflicts in 2020, the parties are not only trying to ease the current tension and resolve border disputes; they also significantly increased the number of bilateral negotiations in order to ensure the withdrawal of troops. From the 2020 conflict to July 2021, more negotiations were held between India and China than ever before. These can be listed as:

  • 12 interviews at corps commander level
  • 10 general-level conversations
  • 55 meetings at brigadier general level
  • 1450 phone calls to avoid conflict

Recent Developments in Boundary Issue

In July 2022, India once again asked China to withdraw its troops from the point of friction.[5] In addition, New Delhi requested China to end its border patrols in critical areas. In this process, China continued to take provocative actions on the border with warplanes, although it increased its troops and the frequency of patrols on the border. Thereupon, India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval said that China will not tolerate any border violations.[6] Because the Beijing administration provoked India many times by flying warplanes around Ladakh, especially just before the 16th round of border talks.

After the border talks, the Indian Ministry of Defence announced that both sides agreed to maintain close contact and dialogue through military and diplomatic channels. In this process, both India and China continued to send troops to borders and deploy missile systems. On September 21, 2022, Indian senior commanders reiterated that China is facing a formidable challenge, both in the border region and at sea.[7]

India’s main claim is that “China’s unilaterally violation of the status quo.” Beijing, on the other hand, argues that New Delhi misjudged the situation and violated the compromise. Border tensions continue as neither side could agree on where the border actually is. Since both armies have different opinions about the border, they can conduct border patrols within borders of the opposing state. This applies to both parties. Despite the controversial Kashmir Issue between India and Pakistan, similar crises do not occur as the temporary border is clearly defined. The armies of Pakistan and India know exactly how far they will patrol. However, this is not the case between India and China. Therefore, there is an expectation that the temporary border will be determined in order to prevent border conflicts between India and China. If this is achieved, the most extreme patrol points of both armies will be determined, so the possibility of any encounter and conflict will be eliminated.

India asked China to draw a mutual border in the border areas; but China has consistently denied this. For example, this request was conveyed to Chinese President Xi Jinping by 2015 Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi; but China was not interested. Instead, Beijing seeks the adoption of “codes of conduct” that mutually prevent both sides from building infrastructure in border areas. This is because China already has more roads and other infrastructure facilities at the border. India, on the other hand, neglected to develop its border regions after the 1962 war. For this reason, in recent years, it has focused on road construction and increased the frequency of its patrols. This causes China’s discomfort.

China claims that the main reason for current tensions is India’s infrastructure construction and military deployment. In response, it seeks to develop the infrastructure on its side of the border to ensure rapid deployment of the army to the region. But it does not allow India to do the same.

The current conjuncture is not suitable for solving border problems between the parties. China’s move beyond border control lines in Ladakh region leads to fierce Indian reaction and clashes. Despite the withdrawal of Indian and Chinese troops from two disputed areas in Ladakh after the 16th round of negotiations, the conflict in other sectors continues.

Under current circumstances, the parties may choose to sign a new border agreement by preserving the areas they control, namely the current status quo. But India historically rejects this idea. China is also interested in such a permanent solution. The best solution, where the parties come close to reconciliation, is to set a temporary border along the entire line to avoid border conflicts. Although India offers it, China refuses to accept it.


[1] “India, China to Withdraw from Disputed Border Area by Monday”, Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/world/india/india-says-disengagement-along-disputed-area-with-china-be-completed-by-sept-12-2022-09-09/, (Date of Accession: 21.09.2022).

[2] “Achilles Heel in India’s Border Defence with China!”, India Defence Review, http://www.indiandefencereview.com/news/achilles-heel-in-indias-border-defence-with-china/, (Date of Accession: 21.09.2022).

[3] “Five Things to Know About the India-China Border Standoff”, Al Jazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/6/22/five-things-to-know-about-the-india-china-border-standoff, (Date of Accession: 21.09.2022).

[4] “India-China Border Impasse: What would be a Common-Sense Solution?”, RT, https://www.rt.com/op-ed/538338-india-china-border-solution/, (Date of Accession: 21.09.2022).

[5] “India Again Asks China to Withdraw Troops from Friction Points”, Times of India, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/india-again-asks-china-to-withdraw-troops-from-friction-points/articleshow/92941892.cms, (Date of Accession: 21.09.2022).

[6] “India Will not Tolerate any Transgression by China: NSA Ajit Doval”, NDTV, https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/national-security-adviser-ajit-doval-on-india-china-india-will-not-tolerate-any-transgression-by-china-nsa-ajit-doval-3086719, (Date of Accession: 21.09.2022).

[7] “China Remains a Formidable Challenge, Says Navy Chief”, The Hindu, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/china-remains-a-formidable-challenge-pakistan-is-continuing-military-modernisation-says-navy-chief/article65914474.ece, (Date of Accession: 21.09.2022).

Dr. Cenk TAMER
Dr. Cenk Tamer, 2014 yılında Sakarya Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Aynı yıl Gazi Üniversitesi Ortadoğu ve Afrika Çalışmaları Bilim Dalı’nda yüksek lisans eğitimine başlamıştır. 2016 yılında “1990 Sonrası İran’ın Irak Politikası” başlıklı teziyle master eğitimini tamamlayan Tamer, 2017 yılında ANKASAM’da Araştırma Asistanı olarak göreve başlamış ve aynı yıl Gazi Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Doktora Programı’na kabul edilmiştir. Uzmanlık alanları İran, Mezhepler, Tasavvuf, Mehdilik, Kimlik Siyaseti ve Asya-Pasifik olan ve iyi derecede İngilizce bilen Tamer, Gazi Üniversitesindeki doktora eğitimini “Sosyal İnşacılık Teorisi ve Güvenlikleştirme Yaklaşımı Çerçevesinde İran İslam Cumhuriyeti’nde Kimlik İnşası Süreci ve Mehdilik” adlı tez çalışmasıyla 2022 yılında tamamlamıştır. Şu anda ise ANKASAM’da Asya-Pasifik Uzmanı olarak görev almaktadır.