Border, water disputes in focus as Khurshid heads for China

May 09, 2013 12:00 am | Updated 06:07 am IST - BEIJING:

How to handle thorny issues is the crux of talks

The question how India and China can more effectively manage persisting thorny issues such as the border dispute and trans-boundary rivers is expected to emerge as the centre of talks as External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid arrives here on Thursday.

Mr. Khurshid is scheduled to meet a top Chinese leader in the reclusive Central leadership compound, Zhongnanhai, on Thursday afternoon. He will later hold talks with his counterpart Wang Yi on his two-day visit.

Barring last-minute changes, the senior leader he is expected to meet is second ranked Li Keqiang, Premier, though Chinese officials, as is the norm, would only confirm that one of the seven members of the elite Politburo Standing Committee would meet Mr. Khurshid.

While officials said the focus of this week’s talks was on laying the groundwork for Mr. Li’s visit to India, expected on May 20, underpinning the discussions is the question how both countries can come up with more effective mechanisms to resolve problems that continue to strain relations.

The three-week-long stand-off between Indian and Chinese forces in Ladakh, which ended on Sunday after a series of flag meetings and intense diplomatic consultations, has set the agenda in the lead up to Mr. Khurshid’s visit.

Some Indian officials have come to see the April 15 incursion as tied to China’s recent moves to push for a border defence cooperation agreement, to which India has not yet responded in order to ensure its strategic interests are not undermined.

China has voiced concern at India’s recent efforts to boost border infrastructure, saying the moves violated the 1993 and 1996 agreements aimed at maintaining peace and tranquillity and reduction of troop levels.

Indian officials, however, point out that China has completed a massive upgrade of road, rail and air networks in Tibet, significantly widening the asymmetry across the disputed Line of Actual Control.

India’s wariness of tying itself down on the issue has been mirrored in China’s stalling on another sensitive question that has strained ties recently: dams on the Brahmaptura.

As first reported by The Hindu , China in January gave the green light for three new dams on the river, known as the Yarlung Zangbo in this country. India has conveyed to China the need for a mechanism more robust and transparent than the current system of sharing hydrological data through joint working groups. China has, so far, not responded to the move.

Lan Jianxue, a scholar at the China Institute of International Studies and former deputy head of the political section at the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi, acknowledged that both sides needed to “start to delicately lay a sound, solid, multifaceted and mechanised foundation for future robust bilateral relations.”

On the Ladakh stand-off, he said: “There is no need to deny the existing mechanism for a single unexpected incident.” “These existing agreements and mechanisms that are fully observed help to maintain peace and tranquillity in the China-India border area substantively.”

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters on Wednesday: “China hopes that this visit by the Foreign Minister Khurshid will push forward bilateral relations.”

“China always believes that China and India are important developing countries and emerging economies,” she said.

The peaceful resolution of the Ladakh stand-off, Ms. Hua said, “shows that the two countries agreed to protect the safety, security and peace of border areas.”

“A proper and timely settlement of border issues serves the common interests of both countries,” she said, “and is also their common aspiration.”

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