Looking to turn the page from last year's heightened tensions along the disputed border, China on Friday said it hoped to make border areas “a bridge and bond” with India as its top diplomat travels to New Delhi next week.
State Councillor Yang Jiechi, the Chinese Special Representative (SR) on the boundary question, will visit the Indian capital between Monday and Wednesday, officials here said. During his visit, Mr. Yang and National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon will hold the 17th round of negotiations on the long-running boundary dispute.
The boundary talks are currently in the second of a three-stage process. The current stage - seen as the most difficult - involves agreeing a framework to settle the dispute in western, middle and eastern sections of the disputed border.
The first stage involved agreeing “political parameters and guiding principles”, and was concluded in 2005, two years after the current Special Representatives mechanism was introduced.
Asked about widely-held perceptions that the slow-moving negotiations had remained deadlocked since 2005, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said on Friday that China was of the view that both sides had “done a lot of work” towards achieving a settlement.
“Over the years, the two sides have done a lot of work to achieve settlement of the issue, in particular through the establishment of the mechanism of SRs in 2003,” he said. “There have already been 16 such meetings. At the high level we have exchanged in-depth views on the issue and positive progress has been achieved.”
He said both sides had “reiterated that the boundary question should not overshadow” overall ties.
“An early settlement serves interests of both China and India, and it is a strategic objective set by the two governments,” Mr. Hong said. “China is ready to work with the Indian government to advance the process of negotiation so as to achieve a fair, reasonable framework acceptable to both sides so as to make the border areas into a bridge and bond between the two peoples to facilitate their exchanges and communication”.
The previous round of border talks took place in June last year, only two months after Chinese troops triggered a three-week-long stand-off by pitching a tent in Depsang, in eastern Ladakh.
Addressing tensions, rather than taking forward negotiations, subsequently emerged as the focus of last year's talks, with both countries saying after the last round they had discussed “ways and means of strengthening existing mechanisms for consultation and coordination on border affairs and methodology to enhance the efficiency of communications between the two sides”.
In November, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Beijing, both sides signed a Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA) aimed at expanding on-the-ground engagement and formalising patrolling rules to prevent recurrence of stand-offs.
This year's talks take place as the new Chinese leadership attempts to recalibrate China's “neighbourhood diplomacy”, an effort reflected in renewed diplomatic outreach to a number of countries in the region.
Even as China has intensified pressure on Japan over disputed East China Sea islands and issues relating to wartime history, Beijing has recently attempted to woo its South and Southeast Asian neighbours. Tensions over the South China Sea that surfaced during the last years of the previous Hu Jintao administration have since subsided, with the President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang both visiting Southeast Asia in October and signing landmark economic deals, including an agreement for joint exploration with Vietnam.
Indian officials and analysts have also noted a particular keenness to ensure that ties with India remained stable. This has been reflected in what one Asian diplomat described as Beijing's “notable silence” as India, last month, prominently honoured Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by hosting him as the chief guest in the Republic Day parade. In recent months, the Chinese leadership has also pushed attempts to revive a long-dormant Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) corridor plan, with the first official-level talks held in December in southwestern China.