India and China agreed on Wednesday that in any face-off on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) they will not use force or threaten to use force against each other and prevent exchange of fire or an armed conflict.
This was among a set of confidence building measures contained in the Border Defence Co-operation Agreement between India and China, signed by both sides at the conclusion of talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the Great Hall of the People.
The BDCA was among nine agreements signed by both sides, of which an MoU on Strengthening Co-operation on Trans-border Rivers was another significant agreement, officials said.
In a statement to the media, Premier Li said the BDCA “would help maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas.”
The Chinese leader said he and Dr. Singh agreed that “ the two governments have the ability to manage differences along the border so that it won’t affect overall interests of our bilateral relations.”
Dr. Singh said the BDCA would “add to the existing instruments to ensure peace, stability and predictability” on the borders.
“We agreed that peace and tranquillity on our borders must be the foundation for growth in the India-China relationship, even as we move forward the negotiations towards a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement to the India-China boundary question. This will be our strategic benchmark,” Dr. Singh said.
The two leaders also agreed, Dr. Singh said, that “as large neighbours following independent foreign policies, the relationships pursued by India and China with other countries must not become a source of concern for each other. This will be our strategic reassurance.”
On the Indian side, this is clearly a reference to China’s strategic ties with Pakistan, while China’s main concern would be India’s ties with the United States.
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh said India brought up the issue of terrorism emanating from Pakistan, and Chinese infrastructure-building in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, as well as Indian concerns about China issuing stapled visas to people from Arunachal Pradesh.
The BDCA, the most substantive agreement to come out of the visit, envisages a graded mechanism, starting with meetings between border personnel, perhaps in all sectors. Periodic meetings will be held between officers of the regional military headquarters, specifically between the Chengdu military region and India’s Eastern Command, and Lanzhou military region and the Northern Command. Higher-level meetings between the two ministries of defence will also be held, aside from the working mechanism for consultation and co-ordination on India-China Border Affairs, and the India-China Annual Defence Dialogue.
The two sides have formalised an agreement not to tail each other’s patrols in the areas where there is no common understanding of the LAC, and laying down the right to seek a clarification. The two sides are to establish meeting sites for border personnel, as well as telephone and telecommunication links on the LAC. A hotline between the two military headquarters is also under consideration.
Crucially, India and China have also agreed that if the two sides come face-to-face in areas where they have differing perceptions of the LAC, “both sides shall exercise maximum self-restraint, refrain from any provocative actions, not use force or threaten to use force against the other side, treat each other with courtesy and prevent exchange of armed conflict”.
Indian Ambassador to China S. Jaishankar said the agreement did not affect India’s right to build infrastructure at the border. There was recognition on both sides, like in all previous agreements — 1993, 1996 and 2005 — that “the border is asymmetrical, that what is on their side is different from our side. Each side will approach its security in its own way.”