On the line: on India-China boundary talks


The meeting between the Special Representatives of India and China — National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and State Councillor Yang Jiechi — on the boundary question on December 22, the 20th so far, was unique for a number of reasons. The talks came more than 20 months after the last round, reflecting a period of extreme strain in India-China ties, including the 70-day troop stand-off at Doklam this year. Previous meetings had followed each other within a year. Also, at the recent Communist Party Congress, Mr. Yang was elevated to the Political Bureau, and this is the first time the Chinese side has been represented by an SR of such seniority. As a result, the two sides were best poised to move ahead in the three-step process that was part of the Agreement on ‘Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question’ in 2005 — that is, defining the guidelines for the settlement of border disputes, formulating a framework agreement on the implementation of the guidelines, and completing border demarcation. The SRs were given an extended mandate after meetings between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping this year, and thus went well beyond the remit of discussing the resolution of boundary issues. Above all, they were guided by the Modi-Xi agreements of 2017, including the ‘Astana consensus’ that “differences must not be allowed to become disputes”, and the understanding at Xiamen that India-China relations “are a factor of stability” in an increasingly unstable world.


It would be a mistake, however, to infer that with all these engagements the worst in bilateral ties is now behind the two countries. Since 2013, when the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement was signed, there has been a steady decline in relations in all spheres. The border has seen more transgressions, people-to-people ties have suffered amid mutual suspicion, and China’s forays in South Asia as well as India’s forays into South-East Asian sea lanes have increasingly become areas of contestation. In India, this is seen as the outcome of China’s ambition of geopolitical domination. In this vitiated atmosphere India views every move by China as a targeted assault — such as the Belt and Road Initiative with the economic corridor with Pakistan, the free trade agreement with the Maldives, and the blocking of India’s membership bid at the Nuclear Suppliers Group. In turn, Beijing sees the U.S.-India defence agreements, the Quadrilateral engagement with Japan, Australia and the U.S., and Indian opposition to the BRI quite the same way. The stand-off at Doklam was a hint of what may ensue at greater regularity unless greater attention is paid to resolving the differences for which the SR meetings process was set up in the first place.

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Printable version | Oct 23, 2021 10:34:56 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/on-the-line/article22277318.ece

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