China was not in favour of resuming the process of clarifying the Line of Actual Control (LAC) because it could “create new disputes”, its Ambassador to India Sun Weidong said on Thursday.
He said China’s troops were on its side of the “traditional customary boundary line” on the northern bank of Pangong Lake, where disengagement between the two sides is yet to happen.
That is expected to be taken up later this week at the fifth round of talks between the Corps Commanders of both armies.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said “there has been some progress made” towards complete disengagement along the LAC, “but the disengagement process has as yet not been completed”. “The Senior Commanders of the two sides will meet in the near future to work out steps in this regard,” MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said.
China’s Defence Ministry said on Thursday the situation “tends toward de-escalation and the disengagement between the border troops of the two countries is [being] gradually carried forward.” While the Foreign Ministry said earlier this week border troops “completed disengagement in most localities”, defence sources said it had only been “partial” in some spots, such as Patrolling Point 17A in Gogra-Hot Springs and Pangong Lake.
At Pangong Lake, following earlier talks, Chinese troops pulled back from the base of Finger 4, where Beijing’s’s claimed border is, and moved to Finger 5, still well within where India sees the LAC at Finger 8. The ‘fingers’ are mountain spurs on the northern bank of the lake.
The Chinese envoy said, “China’s traditional customary boundary line is in accordance with the LAC” on the northern bank of the lake. “There is no such case that China has expanded its territorial claim,” he said, speaking at a webinar organised by the Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS) in New Delhi.
“China hopes that [Indian] border troops will strictly abide by the relevant bilateral agreements and protocols, and refrain from illegally crossing the LAC to the Chinese side,” he said.
Asked if this summer’s clashes, marking the worst violence on the border since 1967, had reinforced the need to resume the process to clarify the LAC that had been stalled since 2002, Mr. Sun said “if one side unilaterally delimits the LAC as per its own understanding during the negotiations, that could create new disputes and that would be a departure from the original purpose of clarification of the LAC.”
“The original purpose of clarification of the LAC is to maintain peace and tranquility in border areas,” he said. “When we look back into history, we will find that if one side has unilaterally put its own perception of the LAC during the negotiations, that will create new disputes. I think that is why the process cannot move on.”
Asked if China would confirm the number of casualties on its side from the June 15 clash in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed, he said, “What we are now doing is to make joint efforts to de-escalate the situation and ease the tension along border areas. We hope India can understand the goodwill from the Chinese side to not make contradictions even more higher.”
Ashok Kantha, former ambassador to China and director of the ICS, said “even experienced Indian diplomats who are deeply invested in this relationship are speaking of the need for a reset in ties” and the policy of compartmentalising the boundary dispute “had now run its course”.
Mr. Sun said he differed with the view that relations were at a turning point or would be reset. “Basic national conditions as two largest developing neighbours remain unchanged, orientation of being partners, of friendly cooperation and common development remain unchanged, the general structure that we can’t live without each other remains unchanged, and China’s basic policy towards India is unchanged,” he observed.
He expressed concern at calls for India to adjust its China policy, including on Taiwan and Hong Kong. “Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Xizang [Tibet] affairs are totally China’s internal affairs,” he said, “and bear on China’s sovereignty and security.”