Plan to hold talks on border issue before year-end

India and China are seeking to put the recent exchanges over oil exploration in South China Sea behind them with below-the-radar contacts that could lead to an agreement on border incursions before the year end and resumption of the defence dialogue early next year. Diplomats are also working on ensuring that the 15th round of talks between Special Representatives on the border issue is held before the year ends.

These initiatives would add to the impetus provided by the first-ever Strategic Economic Dialogue, an idea proposed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during which the two sides held in-depth discussions on water and energy besides other subjects. After a meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, the two sides resolved to hold the second round within six months instead of the customary wait of a year during which Beijing would provide greater specificity on providing capital for India's infrastructure sector.

Asserting that there was no Chinese demarche on Oil & Natural Gas Corporation's (ONGC) plans to step up investment in South China Sea, government sources, however, were not unhappy with the manner in which the incident played out. But they discounted the impression that ONGC's oil exploration plan and the earlier ``non-event'' of a Chinese ship accosting an Indian Navy ship would affect the overall shape being given by both Governments to bilateral ties.

Explaining India's stand on the oil exploration issue, the sources said both blocks given to the ONGC for exploration lie partly in Vietnam's exclusive economic zone and partly in the sea claimed by China. “Our stand is that this is a purely commercial activity undertaken by a company. The dispute is for the two countries to sort out and India's participation in oil exploration does not amount to a political stand in favour of either country. Once the two countries sort out the issue India will talk to the country concerned,'' said the sources ahead of the visit by Vietnam President Truong Tan Sang.

The sources put faith in the early signing of the “Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs.” Both sides have agreed to move fast and two rounds of talks have been held since the idea was discussed by Dr. Singh and Chinese President Hu Jintao in April this year. Besides finalising the agreement, both sides are working on dates for a high level interaction at which the agreement could be signed.

“India wants to ask the world to look at the entire gamut of engagement with China and not one or two aspects,” said officials. It is in line with this that the Strategic Economic Dialogue was held for the first time with China with some issues discussed in depth for the first time. The 15th round of Boundary talks will be held before the year end in Delhi and both sides are also working on a fresh programme for defence exchanges that could be announced during the annual dialogue early next year.

India is also reaching out to emerging Chinese leadership. Last month, it invited Song Xiuyan, vice chairperson of the All Chinese Women Association and till February, the first woman Governor of Qinghai Province. The next high-level visitor will be Governor of Xinxiang who will come with a small business delegation.

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