According to a statement by the Indian government, the Chinese army (PLA) attempted to alter the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between the two countries in the eastern Ladakh region. More precisely, the statement reported that the PLA “carried out provocative military movements” over the weekend of 29–30 August adding that “Indian troops pre-empted this PLA activity… [and] undertook measures to strengthen [India’s] positions and thwart Chinese intentions to unilaterally change facts on ground.”
Apparently, the PLA’s incursion occurred in a new area on the southern bank of Pangong Lake. However, Beijing denied the Indian statement saying that “Chinese border troops always strictly abide by the LAC and never cross the line.”
If India’s claim is true, the Chinese military move represents a new development of the long-standing border dispute considering that, as suggested by the Indian Express newspaper “there has not been any issue regarding the south bank of the lake until now.”
In addition, the story contradicts the Chinese exhortations to maintain the “big picture” of India–China relations. In an interview the Chinese Ambassador to India gave to a news outlet the day before the alleged military clash, he said that “we should put the boundary question at an appropriate place in our bilateral relations” implying a need for India–China relations not to be framed solely around the LAC problems.
Oddly enough the ambassador’s statement came at a time when India had made it absolutely clear that its relations with China could no longer be shaped by the old formula of keeping the LAC issue and other matters, such as trade and investment, separate.
The root of the border dispute goes back to the British colonial era when the McMahon Line was drawn in 1914 between the borders of Tibet and India. The nationalist government of the Republic of China had repeatedly protested since 1912 against the British drawing up boundaries.
After the British partitioned the Indian subcontinent, New Delhi accepted the McMahon lines as its international boundary with China but Beijing refused to accept the lines drawn by the foreign colonisers, asserting that China was not a signatory to the treaties drawn up by the British.
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Sinologist and Chief Analyst on Chinese Affairs at Nato Defense College Foundation. Foreign affairs writer for international magazines and publications.