India and China raised diplomatic eyebrows on Friday by putting off the high-level meeting on the border issue scheduled to take place in New Delhi on Monday, offering reporters only a cryptic explanation that dates for their next round of border talks “have yet to be decided.”
The unexpected postponement comes exactly a week after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Indonesia.
On Friday, the two sides issued similar sounding statements that they were negotiating the dates for the 15th round of Special Representative (SR) talks. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Weimin said, “currently the two sides are still in touch with the specific arrangements, including the date of the meeting. I don't have information at this stage.” His Indian counterpart, Vishnu Prakash, spoke in a similar vein: “We are looking forward to the 15th round of SR talks in the near future and the two sides remain in touch to find convenient dates for the meeting.”
Neither side elaborated on the issue nor did they come up with clarifications. Asked if there had been a setback of some sort, a senior Indian official said ‘no,' insisting the problem was simply one of scheduling. However, Indian ambassador to China, S. Jaishankar, is coming to Delhi on Saturday for consultations.
India's SR for border issue talks is National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon while his Chinese counterpart is Councillor Dai Bingguo.
Asked why the talks that were supposed to be held from Monday had been postponed, diplomatic sources said the dates were never officially announced. In fact, soon after Dr. Singh's meeting with Mr. Wen on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit, highly placed sources had hoped the talks would be held soon but did not suggest a date.
Though Ambassador Jaishankar is arriving in New Delhi on Saturday — a visit that was scheduled because of the SR talks that were originally set for Monday — Indian officials insisted this was part of the routine consultation process between the envoy and South Block. The sources would not comment on whether the mention of November 28 and 29 as the dates for SR talks was wrong.
The last round of talks was held a year ago in the wake of an earlier meeting between Dr. Singh and Mr. Wen in Hanoi on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in November last year. Officials at that time said the two Prime Ministers had asked the SRs to “press ahead with the framework negotiations” in line with the political parameters and guiding principles agreed upon during Mr. Wen's visit to India in 2005.
Officials in India say stage-two of resolving the dispute would be reached once the framework is agreed upon. The first stage ended in 2005 with the agreement on political parameters and the final stage will involve the specifics of delineating the border.
Near similar statements from the two national capitals left analysts nonplussed at a time when diplomats are finalising a mechanism to ensure a “Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on Border Affairs” resolving disputes in certain pockets on the line of actual control (LAC). The two sides were also scheduled to hold a defence dialogue next month.
During a meeting between Dr. Singh and Chinese President Hu Jintao in Sanya in March this year, both sides had agreed to resume senior-level defence exchanges, begin a high-level economic dialogue and step up high-level contacts.
But the two countries have not seen eye-to-eye on Vietnam parcelling oil exploration contracts to India in South China Sea and at the latest November 18 meeting, the two Premiers had discussed the issue.