India has concurred with the Chinese desire for early settlement of the border issue, leading diplomats with long years in the field to smell a deal in the offing.
On Monday, a senior Chinese government official called the three-week face off between Indian and Chinese troops on a desolate plateau in the high ranges of Ladakh an “isolated” incident.
There were two takeaways from the tension, he suggested. The first was that both sides did not allow it to contaminate other spheres of cooperation. The second was this incident should spur both sides to make greater efforts for a quieter border.
India has now responded by suggesting the border issue and settlement of some aspects that give rise to tensions must be converted into a “strategic objective” for both countries.
China has submitted a draft Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA), which India is studying. Meanwhile, New Delhi suggested that both sides eliminate the grey areas or “differing perceptions” of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
“Our conviction is that an early settlement of the boundary question will advance the basic interests of the two countries and we, therefore, feel that it should be pursued as strategic objective by both countries,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told journalists here.
Ladakh face-off an isolated incident
“If there are attempts to move that [clarification and confirmation of the LAC pending a final settlement] forward, we stand ready on that because it was our proposal at that stage,” he added.
The Hindu spoke to three serving envoys with vast experience in diplomacy and all of them felt the Chinese terming the face-off an “isolated” incident and India’s response had all the signs of a deal in the works.
Two envoys said given the third country interest in keeping the two countries apart, they would not hazard a guess about the timeline or the manner in which diplomats from the two countries will engage on the issue.
The third envoy pointed to some preliminary overtures by the Chinese to the Vietnamese to settle their boundary question that also led to a conflict in 1979 much like India and China clashed in 1962. “Maybe the new Chinese leadership wants to put the past behind in both cases,” he felt.
Neither the Indian side nor the Chinese feel the issue will be settled quickly. “It takes time,” was the Chinese observation. The Indians also feel that way because a final settlement will involve give and take of land.
For now, they can hope for steps that can make the LAC more sharply defined to eliminate real and fictional reports of a “Chinese creep forward” that tends to vitiate bilateral ties. It could lead to the Chinese going easy on frequent pinpricks in the form of stapled visas and denial of visas to Indians living or serving in “disputed territories” of Jammu & Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh.
So far, both sides have held 15 rounds of talks on the border issue and are yet to reach stage two of the three-step process. The two sides have agreed on political parameters and guiding principles for the resolution of the boundary question. They are now discussing the second step — framework for the resolution of the boundary question. The final step would be delineation of the border that would then replace the provisional boundary called the LAC.