China has resurrected its untenable 1959 Line of Actual Control (LAC) claim even as the two armies dig in for the winter. In invoking the 1959 LAC proposed by the then Chinese premier, Zhou Enlai, Beijing is putting up a straw man. The original proposal was rejected by Jawaharlal Nehru and with reason: LAC then was just a number of scattered points which could be connected in many different ways. Invoking this gives China maximum flexibility in terms of its territorial claims. What it shows is that Beijing will negotiate with tenacity, pushing the envelope as far as it can. Delhi must recognise this does not rule out the use of further military actions.
The Chinese claim came after two meetings, one between Indian and Chinese foreign ministers and another between the armies’ senior commanders. After each, the two sides issued joint statements committing themselves to disengagement. A sensible interpretation of the happenings would be to recognise them as a sign that Beijing and Delhi are moving into negotiation mode. Given that previous border standoffs have taken months, if not years, to come to a final agreement, the real sentiment these developments should arouse is one of patience.
This is not to say there has not been progress. The foreign ministers’ meeting laid down five principles to go forward. The two militaries have agreed not to deploy any more forces. The two governments remain committed to disengagement. A new equilibrium is likely to emerge. LAC is likely to be different from what existed before the Galwan Valley and its latest avatar will have the threat of violence, deep distrust and harsh language as its backdrop.