India-China talks go beyond the border


Yet another round of talks, 13th in a row, on the border disputes between China and India, begins on Friday in New Delhi.  The last such talks were held in September last year. Although one major reason for souring of the relationship between India and China was the border issue, positive developments in the bilateral relationship in the last few years have over shadowed the vexed border dispute. At the same time, however, the two countries know well that they can ill-afford to ignore the dispute, because it is an issue which is high in the national self-esteem of the two countries.

 The two countries have thus adopted a very pragmatic approach of first creating a climate of mutual understanding, appreciation and accommodation and then addressing the border issue with an open mind and being receptive to new ideas.

With an objective of providing an institutional mechanism to address the border issue on a continuous basis, the Joint Working Group was established during the visit of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to China in 1988.

To aid and assist the Joint Working Group, Special Representatives were appointed in 2003 to take a political view of the dispute. After hectic parleys, the two sides agreed on political parameters and guiding principles for settling the dispute in April 2005. Article III of the guiding principles stipulates that “both sides should, in the spirit of mutual respect and mutual understanding, make meaningful and mutually acceptable adjustments to their respective positions, to arrive at a package settlement to the boundary question.”

The guiding principle further envisages that the settlement has to be a package deal covering all sectors of the boundary – western, middle and eastern. While the negotiations on these sensitive issues may not be that easy, the improvement in the bilateral relationship between the two countries and the convergence of approach and outlook, in turn, has created a very conducive condition for the border parleys.
This is not withstanding irritants such as China’s attempt to withhold Asian Development Bank’s $ 60 million watershed development project in Arunachal Pradesh, a part of which China claims belongs to it.

Maturing of relationship
There is a perception that these talks are nothing more than talking about talks. But a deeper analysis suggests that this is not so. Unlike Indo-Pak talks which is equally sensitive, India-China border talks have been held on low-key without arousing any kind of unrealistic optimism or expectation. Talks have been slow, but steady, without meeting any roadblock.

This is symbolic of the maturing of relationship between the two countries which has been achieved over the years. The progress though incremental has been structured, focused and devoid of exuberance. China over the years has mastered the dexterity and finesse of diplomacy and negotiation.

Negotiations on such issues are time consuming as they take into account a complex matrix of factors. China in the recent past has, however, successfully concluded a number of border issues left over by history with a number of neighboring countries including Russia, sharing a land border or maritime border with it.

Given that both the countries attach  a great deal of importance to their respective claims of territory, and that it is an emotive issue, it is difficult to expect any breakthrough at the meeting attended by India’s special representative M K Narayanan, National Security Advisor and Chinese Special representative, Vice-Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo. What is a property dispute between two individuals, similar is perhaps a territorial disputes between two countries and that is equally true of India and China.

 But engagements do help in understanding each other’s view points, claims and counter claims. The consensus is that cooperation and collaboration in other sectors such as economy, culture, tourism, education etc should not suffer due to border dispute. There should be flexibility and mutual accommodation. In any case, the talk must continue as India must take its parliament into confidence and the resolution adopted by Parliament should be taken into account.

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