"Common understanding" report reviews talks on a framework for settling dispute

National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon said on Tuesday India and China had made “considerable progress” on the border dispute as both countries reviewed the past decade of negotiations on the boundary question over two days of talks here.

Mr. Menon and Chinese State Councillor Dai Bingguo, his counterpart as the Special Representative on the talks, prepared a “common understanding” report reviewing the long-running negotiations on a framework for settling the boundary dispute.

The “common understanding” will be submitted to the leaders of both countries. The exercise is part of an effort to ensure continuity in the talks following the retirement of Mr. Dai in March, as China completes a sweeping once-in-10-year leadership change.

“We found, overall, when we looked at the relationship and discussions on the boundary that we have already made considerable progress,” Mr. Menon said. “There is work still to be done, both sides recognise that, and we have not allowed the boundary to prevent all-round development of relations.”

After 15 rounds of talks between the Special Representatives, India and China are now in the second of an agreed-upon three-stage process, which involves the complicated task of agreeing to a framework to settle the boundary question in all sectors. Analysts in India and China say both countries have made little progress since 2005, when the first stage was completed with the signing of an agreement on political parameters and guiding principles.

On a recent media report that a joint review conducted by both countries found serious differences even on interpreting the 2005 agreement — suggesting that the talks had made little or no progress through the past decade — Mr. Menon said it was “pure speculation.”

“Most of it is false,” he said. “It is quite impressive how people can know all kinds of things without being there. It is pure speculation, and most of it factually untrue. We have a common understanding amongst ourselves, and we will report our common understanding to the leaders.”

He said both countries had “moved beyond” the 2005 agreement. “We might have differences on one or two bits and pieces... It is complex, it is an issue that has been there for some time that is politically sensitive on both sides. We have to work our way towards it. But we have increased our area of understanding between us steadily, thanks to the SR process.”

Consular presence

Mr. Menon said both sides also discussed expanding Consular presence at recent foreign office consultations in New Delhi. At present, India has an Embassy in Beijing and Consulates in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, while China has a presence in Mumbai and Kolkata, besides its New Delhi Embassy.

Asked about earlier reports that said India had pitched for a Consulate in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), he said India had “not asked for Lhasa officially,” China has, for now, ruled out allowing diplomatic presence considering its sensitivities on the Tibet issue, with the United States also pushing for a Consulate in Lhasa. “I think they find Lhasa difficult,” Mr. Menon said, adding that several other Chinese cities had expressed interest.

On Tuesday, Mr. Menon met with senior Chinese leader Wu Bangguo, who is the head of the National People’s Congress (NPC), or Parliament and earlier served as the second-ranked leader in the previous Politburo Standing Committee that stepped down at last month’s Party Congress.

The Chinese leader called on both countries to “take a strategic and all-around view, equally negotiate, respect and understand each other and make progress using the current mechanism” of Special Representatives on the border. He said he was “convinced that the two countries had the capability and wisdom to resolve boundary issues.”

While Mr. Menon’s trip was the first from India following the leadership change, the NSA did not meet with any of the newly-selected Politburo Standing Committee members. Mr. Wu, the NPC chairman, will retire in March. Indian officials said the new leaders would engage with India on State visits only after they take their positions in the government at the Parliament session in March.

Monday’s wide-ranging talks also touched upon the issue of trans-border rivers. China’s proposed plans to build dams on the Brahmaputra raised concerns in India. So far, China has built one hydropower project in Zangmu in Tibet, which Chinese officials say will not affect downstream flows as it is a run-of-the-river project.

“We are exchanging data on trans-border rivers, and that we would like to expand what we are doing,” Mr. Menon said. “We are also measuring flows. So far so good; so far the flows they are what they were. The question is if they have a structure that can control flows. So far, it doesn’t exist. They say nothing that we are doing is going to affect the flows. They are sharing data with us. We will keep working with them at it, because it is a sensitive issue.”