After the meeting on September 11 of the foreign ministers of India and China, S Jaishankar and Wang Yi, some Indian officials had informally claimed that the purpose of the talks — objectives and principles of disengagement — was achieved. But sceptics had insisted not to prematurely hail the five-point agreement struck at the SCO meet in Moscow, while warning India of Chinese duplicity and their policy of ‘fighting and talking’. This new Panchsheel had, without even once referring to the term Line of Actual Control (LAC), promised to abide by existing border protocols to avoid escalatory tension, to disengage quickly to ease tension, and had also assured to work towards new confidence-building measures.
Now, the Chinese have yet again proven why their promises and agreements cannot be taken at face value. In a statement, written in Mandarin and offered to the Beijing correspondent of an Indian daily, the Chinese foreign ministry has reiterated its 1959 claim line as LAC, making a unilateral assertion which it knows is anathema to India. Worse, it has blamed the border standoff, tension and clashes entirely on the India Army, making a mockery of the dialogue process. Yet, this statement is important because it finally, after decades, makes the Chinese recalcitrance on the border issue its officially declared policy.
The then PM Narasimha Rao ought to be blamed for accepting the term LAC with no mutually agreed definition in 1993 during his Beijing visit when the two sides signed the Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the LAC. Now, the Chinese have gone back to Zhou Enlai’s letter of November 7, 1959, to highlight and underline the claims that they have made all along without exchanging maps to scale. For the Chinese, it is ‘a traditional, customary line’; but it is only a ‘disconnected series of points that could be joined up in many ways’, as former National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon explained in his book. Now, the Modi government can quote Jawaharlal Nehru to reject the 1959 claim, asking the Chinese whether it is something that they created by aggression.