India and China will hold the 16th round of talks between the Special Representatives (SRs) on the boundary question here on Friday and Saturday, with the discussions seen as taking on added significance in the wake of the leadership change in China and the recent incursion by Chinese troops in Depsang in eastern Ladakh.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday the two sides would use the meetings to “follow through on the requirements of the leaders of the two countries,” who had called on the two SRs to inject momentum into the negotiations process, as well as ensure that incidents such as the three-week stand-off in Ladakh do not occur.
The talks will see a new SR from the Chinese side engage with National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon. Yang Jiechi, the former Foreign Minister, took over as State Councillor and top diplomat in March following the once-in-10-year leadership transition. His predecessor, Dai Bingguo, had served as the SR since the mechanism was introduced in 2003.
Mr. Menon’s two-day trip is expected to be followed by a visit by Defence Minister A.K. Antony between July 4 and 7. Indian and Chinese officials hope the two high-level visits will help draw a line over the recent strains in the relationship following the April 15 incursion, which cast a shadow over last month’s visit to New Delhi by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
To signal the importance Beijing is attaching to the two visits, President and Communist Party of China General Secretary Xi Jinping has expressed his desire to meet either Mr. Menon or Mr. Antony, depending on his schedule, according to Chinese officials. Mr. Xi had his first meeting with Indian officials when he met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh along the sidelines of the BRICS summit in South Africa in March.
Hua Chunying, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said both sides would use this week’s talks to “maintain the negotiation momentum, safeguard peace and tranquillity in border areas, exchange views on bilateral relations as well as major international and regional issues, and push for comprehensive and in-depth development of relations.”
The SRs were, last month, tasked by Dr. Singh and Mr. Li to take stock of the lessons learnt from the Depsang incident and examine the existing mechanisms in place to resolve border issues.
Both sides have also been in communication on a border defence cooperation agreement to enhance and give structure to confidence building measures, although it is as yet uncertain if the agreement may be concluded before the arrival of Mr. Antony in Beijing.
Asked how China viewed the progress made on the long-running boundary negotiations over the past 15 rounds, Ms. Hua said both countries had made “long-term efforts for the early settlement of the boundary issue.”
“Positive progress has already been made in previous rounds of the SR meetings,” she said. “For example, we have signed an agreement on political guiding principles to resolve the boundary issue [in 2005], and we have also reached some preliminary consensus on the settlement of the issue.”
“We are trying to work together with India to find an equitable, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution to the issue,” she added.
“Pending the final settlement of the issue, we should safeguard peace and tranquillity of border areas, and ensure that the boundary issue will not affect the overall development of bilateral relations.”