A unique international Webinar “India-China Boundary: Eye to the Eastern Sector” was held on 30 August 2020 with Guwahati as the “domain-juncture” (hosted from Guwahati featuring an international audience insofar as the “hub” was based in Guwahati). It has attracted the attention and participation of very senior and important China observers from India and from the international community.
The webinar was organised by internationally acclaimed author, security expert and India-China Boundary observer, Jaideep Saikia. The Webinar brought together top experts in the field, including, former foreign secretary of India, Shyam Saran, former Home Secretary of India, G.K. Pillai, Claude Arpi, Myra MacDonald, Srikanth Kondapalli, Ambassador Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty, Professor Alex Waterman (from the University of Leeds, United Kingdom), Lt Gen J.R. Mukherjee, Air Marshal P.K. Barbora, Lt Gen Anil Ahuja, Lt Gen Rakesh Sharma, Lt Gen Sanjay Kulkarni, Lt Gen K. Himalay Singh, Maj Gen A.K. Bardalai among others.
The Webinar discussed the pros and cons of the India-China Boundary conflict at length and forwarded recommendations about possible resolution to the problem.
The Webinar expressed its concern about growing Chinese belligerence after the Galwan episode and examined ways to thwart the possibility of the People’s Liberation Army’s military advancement into the sensitive North East.
One of the novel ideas that came to the fore was the concept of the “Line of Amity” which seeks to recommend the conversion of the Line of Actual Control in the Kameng Sector to an intermediate “Line of Amity”.
The rationale behind the “Line of Amity” which is the brainchild of India-China Boundary expert, Jaideep Saikia is based on the knowledge that neither India nor China would surrender ground (the instances which was quoted was that of Thagla Ridge held by the Chinese and the Namka Chu River that runs south of the Ridge held by the Indians) as well as the fact that the only solution lies in converting the “Line of Actual Control” into an International Boundary. The accent was also to take a step that would not only aid correct direction for a later-day resolution and the need to replace the current “Line of Actual Control” by a classification that does not ring of belligerence. Although there was a consensus that India enters into negotiations pertaining to the boundary from a “position of strength”, the progenitor of the concept, Jaideep Saikia opined that at least a change of nomenclature that resonates of accommodation could herald a positive mindset change from a continual and non-progressive status quo.
The argument was laced by stating that altering the name from “Line of Actual Control” to “Line of Amity” would not have any legal implications or bring forth questions about the principle by which delineation of boundaries are normally undertaken.
It has been so in the case of the Sino-Russia boundary where the midstream of the Ussuri River was considered to be the boundary.
Such agreements follow the Thalweg Principle and it is the considered opinion of Jaideep Saikia that it can be applied to the Kameng Sector by way of a slight variation: Indians do not cross the Namka Chu River and the Chinese do not intrude beyond where they are presently perched, atop the Thagla Ridge. Such an aspect was hazarded despite the fact that the “watershed principle” which Henry McMahon determined in the Simla Convention of 1914 is nearly approximated to the position in the Thagla Ridge which the Chinese presently occupies.
Jaideep Saikia has physically visited the area and discerned the possibility of an entente cordiale. The name “Line of Amity” also has the distinct possibility of bringing future leaders of both the countries to the table without the baggage of the past as well as the suspicion that has accompanied almost all Indo-China boundary dialogue and could well be the prerequisite for peace.
Jaideep Saikia has travelled the entire Eastern Sector and has seen for himself the possibility of bringing about some of a settlement with the Chinese in the Kameng Sector. He has been right up to the Namka Chu River and has closely seen the Thagla Ridge to which the Chinese went back to in 1962.
“Why would the Chinese go back to the Ridge Line when they could have stayed on in Bomdila, Sela or even Tawang?” he queried. The Chinese had in fact wanted an east-west swap in 1960 and 1980 which was then not acceptable to India.
“The Line of Amity,” Saikia states would be an intermediate solution (status quo) before a full and final settlement is resorted to, making, thereby the McMahon Line into an International Boundary.
As a matter of fact, the late Neville Maxwell (in correspondence with Jaideep Saikia) had said that the ultimate term should be called the “Modi-Xi Line” (The Assam Tribune, 25 October, 2015 in a conversation piece with Jaideep Saikia).
Many important participants of the unique Webinar exercise have commented to theasternlink.comabout the exercise. While, retired Vice Chief of the Indian Air Force, Air Marshal, Pranab Kumar Barbora terms Jaideep Saikia’s knowledge of the India-China Boundary issue as very deep, the first Lieutenant General from the North East, Lt Gen (Dr.) K. Himalay Singh has said that the “Line of Amity” which has been propounded by Jaideep Saikia has all the makings of a robust “intermediate” solution for the boundary issue.
Maj Gen. Apurba Kumar Bardalai echoes Gen. Singh’s statement and stated that Jaideep Saikia has studied the subject from various angles and has travelled extensively along the border and in inhospitable terrain in the India-China border despite his right leg ailment (he has metallic implants in his leg as a result of a fall during a battle-simulation exercise with in an Indian army battalion in 2009).
Gen. Bardalai informs that the unique concept of the “Line of Amity” merits very close examination by the policy planners.Dr. Alex Waterman of the University of Leeds, United Kingdom states that Jaideep Saikia’s knowledge base about the India-China Boundary, as it pertains to the most contentious Eastern Sector, is brilliant.
He says that Jaideep Saikia “commands extensive knowledge of the boundary issue, which has emerged not only from scholarly studies but active engagement in the issue in the form of “Track II Dialogue” with China of which he was a member of the Indian delegation in the past. Such a deep understanding has given rise to the novel concept of “Line of Amity”. He has a profound comprehension of the complex topography of the boundary and the implications that it poses for India-China border dynamics.