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This article is written by Mathews Savio who is pursuing a Diploma in Advanced Contract Drafting, Negotiation, and Dispute Resolution from LawSikho.


Last year witnessed large scale border flare-ups between Indian and China. In June 2020, video clips circulated on the internet showed security forces from both countries engaging in a physical confrontation. The clash in Galwan valley using sticks and clubs left at least 20 Indian soldiers dead. The standoff is continuing to date even though there is a lull in violence. 

India and China share a border of approximately 4,057 Kms divided into Eastern, Middle and Western Sectors. The countries do not have a consensus on the almost entirely disputed area except for the Sikkim border and few places in the Western and Middle sector. The Line of Actual Control (LAC) is used to demarcate the territories in possession of each country. The countries also dispute the position of the LAC, and in the Eastern and Western Sectors, the presence of snow caps, glaciers and rivers give rise to a dynamic terrain that leads to further confrontations. In the Western Sector, the LAC itself is not uniformly accepted, leading to border standoffs. The unresolved borders between the two nuclear-armed nations cause great concern for the region at large.

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There have been multiple attempts to resolve the disputes and reduce the possibility of violence at these volatile borders. The two countries have entered into agreements in 1993, 1996, 2005, 2012 and finally in 2013. These agreements aimed to define a mutually agreeable LAC, set up consultative processes, avoid standoffs, and prohibit the use of weapons near the border. The 2013 Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA) is the last of such agreements and aimed at eliminating border standoffs and ensuring beneficial cooperation. This article discusses the objectives, provisions and instances of failure of the 2013 BDCA agreement, along with its importance and need to revive it.

Objectives of 2013 BDCA agreement

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Chinese Premier signed the BDCA during the former’s visit to China in 2013. The bureaucratic top-brass of both countries produced the agreement after several rounds of rigorous closed-door meetings. At the time of its signing, the agreement had elicited mixed reviews from the Indian and Chinese media and public.

The Chinese media was all praises for the agreement as an attempt to solve a long lingering border dispute. They attributed the agreement as a success of the Chinese political leadership’s commitment to addressing a long-pending border dispute.

However, many in India saw the agreement as a surrender of Indian interests as a result of Chinese diplomatic arm-twisting. Indian media argued that the agreement does little to assuage the tensions at the border. 

Despite these contrary views, a reading of the provisions of BDCA show its potential to end the border standoff and pave the way for a more productive corporation in the future. The agreement aims at taking forward the spirit of engagement reflected in previous agreements.

Even if the agreement’s implications for a final solution for the border question are limited, it is significant. The spirit of the agreement is towards finding a definitive answer to the border question. The agreement stresses avoiding conflicts between the security forces on the border. Periodic meetings between the troops at the border and information exchange aims to de-escalate tensions. The agreement also aims at cooperation between the security forces in countering transnational crimes. The recital clauses to the agreement spell out the agreement’s scope to ensure peace and protect the rights of the citizens of both countries by avoiding conflicts at the border. The recital also mentions the previous agreements between the countries and the need to take the mutual commitments further.

The most significant provision of the 2013 agreement aims to stop tailing patrols by both sides, thereby eliminating the instances of border standoffs. One can now evaluate the provisions of the agreement with the benefit of hindsight.

Important provisions of BDCA 

The most important provision of the Agreement is Article II which defines the scope of Border Defence Corporation. Article II consists of five clauses dealing with information exchange, combating transnational crimes, search and rescue operations, disaster management, and any other matter that the countries agree to undertake.

Combating transnational crimes

The porous North-Eastern border regions of India are a hotbed for transnational crime. The principal criminal activity across the border is the smuggling of wild animals, drugs and small arms. Most of the wildlife smuggled in the region have China as their destination and involve several non-state actors as significant players in the trade. Drug and small arms trade are prevalent in the area, with smuggled goods transported between the Golden Crescent Region (Drug producing region involving Afghanistan, Pakistan etc.) and the Golden Triangle Region (Drug processing and consuming area in South-East Asia). The various insurgent groups in the region are active supporters of this illegal trade. Both India and China are facing challenges from these insurgent groups. So, cooperation between both countries in combating transnational crime is vital for both the countries and the region.

Exchange of information

Clause 1 of Article II deals with exchanging information about military exercises, aircraft, demolition activities and unmarked mines, which will play an essential role as a confidence-building measure. The clause also calls for taking other steps to promote peace, stability and tranquillity along the LAC.

Search and rescue and Disaster Management

The agreement also calls for mutual assistance in the search and location of people, cattle, vehicles or aircraft that may have inadvertently crossed the border. This provision will be helpful in the repatriation of people and property, which otherwise would have faced several administrative and operational challenges. The clause on disaster management calls for mutual assistance to prevent and prepare for natural disasters and infectious diseases, which proves significant in the circumstance of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The mechanism for Border Defence Cooperation

Article III of the Agreement details the mechanism for Border Defence Corporation, and it envisages engagement and communication at several levels of the military and civilian hierarchy. Flag meetings on the ground are to be conducted regularly at various places on the LAC and other regular engagement mechanisms like ministerial meets, meetings of Regional Heads of the Defence forces and an annual dialogue mechanism. Articles IV and V also deal with engagement between the forces by establishing communication channels and the joint celebration of festivals.

No tailing patrols

The most critical provision in the agreement regarding advancing peace at the border is in Article VI. The Article states that the security forces from both sides of the border are not to follow or tail the patrols of other sides in areas of the LAC where there is no common demarcation of territory.

Tailing patrols are a common practice in the border region in which the forces of both sides follow each other while patrolling the disputed territories. This close vigil is maintained as a tactical and strategic measure to prevent further incursions and monitor the other side’s activities and movements. Tailing patrols give rise to standoffs and confrontations at the LAC. By giving up the practice of tailing patrol, the countries are making a tactical compromise with a strategic goal of furthering peace at the border. Following the provisions are followed in earnest will considerably reduce the possibility of a standoff. Articles VII, VIII, XI, and X further develop cooperation and peaceful coexistence by providing mutual consultations and resolving conflicts.

The success of BDCA?  

From discussing the agreement’s provisions, the critical role that the agreement could have played in resolving border standoffs is evident. The agreement could have maintained peace at the LAC and even paved the way for an early settlement of an international border.

But even after the signing of the 2013 BDCA, there have been several rounds of tensions on the LAC. In September 2014, there was a standoff between the troops from both sides after Indian workers began constructing a canal in a border village in Ladakh. Diplomatic interventions resolved the conflict soon, and both the forces pulled back. Similarly, in September 2015, there was a faceoff between the defence forces of both countries after Chinese troops entered a disputed territory and erected a temporary watchtower. The 2018 Doklam crisis also saw protracted standoffs between the troops. Despite the provisions of the agreement, there have been tailing patrols and confrontations between the forces. The resolution of these conflicts without much collateral damage is a win for the 2013 BDCA.

But the June 2020 faceoff led to casualties on both sides and a protracted standoff on the LAC. The disengagement of troops is still underway, and it is doubtful if both sides can let down their guard anytime soon now. Thus, it is evident that the 2013 BDCA was never followed in letter or spirit, standoffs have occurred now and again on the LAC, but there is a very apparent trust in finding a non-military solution to such issues. A spirit of de-escalation is visible after each standoff which offers hope that the spirit of BDCA is still kept alive.


The India-China border was always a source of conflict between the two countries. Still, a sense of cooperation maintaining peace at the border has led to signing several bilateral agreements. The last of those agreements was the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement, 2013. BDCA had provisions that reflected a commitment to maintaining peace at the border by preventing border standoffs. Giving up the tailing of patrols was the most crucial step towards avoiding standoffs between the troops. The agreement also provides for communication channels between the forces and de-escalation of standoffs when they occur. But even after the signing of this agreement, border standoffs had occurred. The provisions of the agreement have not been followed in its truest sense. The armed conflict between security forces in June 2020 was the latest and more virulent border faceoff which questions the very spirit of the 2013 agreement. Considering the situation as it prevails now, there seems to be no option for the revival of the BDCA agreement, but the agreement had the potential to establish long-term peace at the LAC. In conclusion, it seems that the 2013 BDCA was an unfortunate causality of the India-China border conflict. There is a need for strong political commitment to revive the agreement to maintain peace in the region.


  1. India-China border standoff highlights tensions before Xi visit, available at:
  2. Bijoy Das, Border Defence Cooperation Agreement: The Icebreaker in Making? , available at:
  3. Agreement between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of China on Border Defence Cooperation, available at:
  4. Gaurav Kumar, India-China Border Agreements, available at:
  5. India-China dispute: The border row explained in 400 words, available at:

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