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China-India relations: Beijing stresses that it does not recognise Ladakh


Beijing has reiterated that it does not recognise Ladakh, the region at the centre of the China-India border dispute that New Delhi designated as a union territory last year.

The statement came after Indian media reported this week that India recently completed the construction of eight bridges in the mountainous region.

“China does not recognise the so-called Ladakh union territory, illegally established by India,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Tuesday, adding that Beijing “opposes the development of infrastructure construction in the border disputed area for the purpose of military control”.

Another foreign ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin, made an almost identical statement on September 29.

Beijing has openly opposed the creation of Ladakh since October 31 last year when India split its northernmost regions into the two union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, which borders Pakistan, and Ladakh, which borders China.

But until last month it had stopped short of formally stating that it did not recognise the region.

Zhao’s comments and the large troop presence in the disputed region suggest Beijing and Delhi are still some way off a diplomatic solution to their months-long stand-off.

“In terms of international law, not recognising Ladakh clarifies the fact that China questions the sovereignty of India’s actions in the territory, whereas China in the past had said it merely opposed India’s actions,” said Wang Jiangyu, a professor at City University of Hong Kong’s school of law.

“In contested issues like border disputes, foreign countries need to raise objections to establish a state practice. When Ladakh was formed China could of course oppose the action but by using the term ‘not recognise’ it shows China is opposed specifically to the institutionalisation of India’s claims.”

Atul Alexander, an assistant professor of law at the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences in India, said the recent change in tone from Beijing reflected a lack of commitment on both sides to an “agreement not to change the status quo, and to resolve their issues through dialogue”.

“There can only be headway if there is a willingness to return to discussions,” he said.

China and India have held multiple rounds of military and diplomatic talks since the outbreak of violent clashes along their disputed border in May but with little to show for them.

Tens of thousands of troops from the two sides appear to be bedding in for the winter ahead, supported by aircraft, tanks and heavy artillery.

Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of Chinese studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, said Beijing’s repeated announcement that it did not recognise Ladakh would have little effect in India, except perhaps to stoke anti-China sentiment in the country.

It took China decades to recognise India’s claims in Sikkim, which borders China’s Tibet autonomous region, he said.

“India will not reciprocate on China’s suggestions about what territories belong to it in the border regions, and be even less open to Beijing’s claims in other contested areas like the South China Sea,” he said.