Indian and Chinese diplomats agreed to defuse tensions of the past three months at a two-day meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC) in Delhi that concluded here on Friday. But a month after Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi committed to restarting the high-level talks of Special Representatives on border issues, India is yet to announce its nominee for the dialogue.
Sources tell The Hindu that officials in New Delhi and Beijing are deadlocked over “issues of bureaucratic rank,” given that Chinese Special Representative Yang Jiechi is a “state councillor,” equal to the Indian rank of Minister of State, while National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, who would have been the obvious choice for the post, has not been designated to that rank.
Ahead of Mr. Xi’s visit to India, Mr. Doval travelled to Beijing as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy, and the announcement of his nomination as Special Representative was expected during the President’s visit. However, Chinese officials made it clear informally that Mr. Doval should have the Minister of State rank for the talks to continue. Former NSAs Shivshankar Menon and M.K. Narayanan were both of that rank. Upset with China’s rebuff, New Delhi is learnt to have put off the announcement.
Some reports speculated that the Chairman of the National Security Advisory Board Shyam Saran or India’s Ambassador to the U.S., S. Jaishankar, both of whom have been Ambassadors to China, could be alternative choices and would be given other responsibilities on external security issues.
Experts say the delay has come at the cost of resumption of dialogue at the highest level, making the Line of Actual Control more vulnerable to stand-offs of the kind seen in Chumar since July 25 — first over the construction of a road near Chumar by China and then an irrigation canal and observation post by India.
“Clearly, without having the Special Representatives in place, the government cannot signal any interest in resuming this very important process of clarifying the LAC,” says Srinath Raghavan, a military expert at the Centre for Policy Research.