China may appoint a new interlocutor for boundary talks with India

Uncertainty over dates of next round of negotiation

China may appoint a new interlocutor for boundary talks with India
With China likely to appoint a new interlocutor for boundary negotiations with India, uncertainty looms large over the dates for the next round of talks.

New Delhi and Beijing could not yet fix the dates for the 20th round of negotiations for settling the boundary dispute, although both sides had earlier agreed to hold it in India this year, sources told the DH.

Apart from the strains in the ties between the two neighbours due to the recent military face-off at Doklam in western Bhutan, what has added to the uncertainty over the dates for the next round of boundary talks is the possibility of Beijing changing its lead negotiator after the19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.

New Delhi, according to the sources, has of late learnt that China's State Councillor and Special Representative for boundary talks with India, Yang Jiechi, might retire after the CPC National Congress.

The CPC's twice-a-decade conclave, which will commence in Beijing on October 18, is set to endorse a second five-year-term for Chinese President Xi Jinping.

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi is among the frontrunners to succeed Yang and take over as the communist country's new State Councillor and Special Representative for boundary negotiations with India.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's National Security Advisor Ajit Doval has been India's Special Representative for boundary negotiations with China since November 2014. He and Yang held two rounds of negotiations so far – the 18th round in New Delhi in March 2015 and the 19th round in Beijing in April 2016.

Doval and Yang had agreed last year to hold the next round of negotiations in India this year. Sources in New Delhi, however, said that it might be delayed further if Chinese Government appointed a new interlocutor after the CPC national congress in Beijing. 

A few weeks after the soldiers of Indian Army and Chinese People's Liberation Army got engagement in a face-off at Doklam near India-China-Bhutan tri-junction boundary point, Doval had met Yang informally on the sideline of a BRICS (a bloc comprising Brazil, Russia, India and China) meeting in Beijing on July 28.

Beijing, however, had conveyed to New Delhi that the face-off at Doklam Plateau had been out of the purview of the Special Representatives appointed by China and India to negotiate a settlement of the disputed boundary. It had argued that since the boundary between the two neighbours at Sikkim Sector had already been delimited by the 1890 convention between UK and China, the bilateral mechanism led by the Special Representatives had no scope to discuss it.

New Delhi had disagreed and pointed it out that while the status of Sikkim as an integral part of India had been settled, India-China boundary in Sikkim Sector had still remained unsettled and a matter of negotiation between the Special Representatives of the two nations.

Though the 72-day-long face-off ended on August 28, it is likely to cast a shadow on the boundary negotiations being carried out by the Special Representatives of the two nations since 2003.

Brajesh Mishra, the National Security Advisor to the then Prime Minister A B Vajpayee, was the first Special Representative of India for boundary negotiations with China. He was succeeded by J N Dixit, M K Narayanan and Shivshankar Menon between 2004 and 2014. Their counterpart was Dai Bingguo, who was Yang's predecessor in the office of the State Councillor of China.

The Special Representatives of the two Governments reached an agreement in 2005 on the political parameters and guiding principles for settlement of the boundary dispute.  They have since been engaged in talks on a framework for boundary settlement, which will be followed by actual demarcation of the border. Dai had in 15 rounds of negotiations with successive Special Representatives of India before retiring in 2013.

Yang was China's Foreign Minister from 2007 to 2013. He was appointed as State Councillor and China's Special Representative for boundary talks with India in 2013, succeeding Dai. He held the 16th and 17th rounds of negotiations with Doval's predecessor Menon in June 2013 and February 2014.
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