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India-China Special Representatives Talks: Focus on Trust Building

Dr. R. N. Das is Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • January 16, 2012

    The two-day Special Representative Talks between India and China on the border dispute is taking place today. The Indian side is led by National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon and the Chinese side by Dai Bingguo, the State Councillor. While the contours and contents of the agenda remain confidential, it is being speculated that the two sides will give final shape to some institutional mechanism for better and effective border management in the light of reported border intrusions, termed as border transgressions by the Chinese side.

    In fact, during the last session of Parliament, there was a volley of questions from members cutting across party lines about these border intrusions. Responding to these queries, the government clarified that there is no commonly delineated Line of Actual Control (LAC) and that there are few areas along the border where India and China have different perceptions of the LAC. Both sides patrol up to what they perceive as the LAC. Specific incidents of transgression due to differences in perception are taken up with the Chinese side through established mechanisms such as hot lines, flag meetings, border personnel meetings and normal diplomatic channels. It may be mentioned in this connection that the Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field along the LAC, signed during the visit of the then Chinese President Jiang Zemin to India in 1996, stated that the full implementation of some of the provisions of the Agreement would depend on the two sides arriving at a common understanding of the alignment of the LAC. The two sides have also agreed to the process of clarification and confirmation of the LAC in those segments where they have different perceptions and to the exchange of maps indicating their respective perceptions of the entire alignment of the LAC as soon as possible. Although some progress has been made, particularly relating to the exchange of maps in the central sector, much more remains to be done.

    The 1996 Agreement further stipulated that “pending the completion of the process of clarification and confirmation of the Line of Actual Control, the two sides shall work out modalities for implementing confidence building measures envisaged under this Agreement on an interim basis, without prejudice to their respective positions on the alignment of actual control as well as on the boundary question.” It is against this background that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Hu Jintao agreed to set up a mechanism on coordination and consultation on border affair, whey they met on the sidelines of the April 2011 Sanya BRICS Summit. The proposed border mechanism will be inclusive by taking into its fold the military and paramilitary forces; it will coordinate with the External Affairs Ministry, the army and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. This mechanism is expected to check the cases of border transgression and address such cases effectively and expeditiously – a small and significant step in the gradual settlement of the border dispute.

    Most CBMs agreed upon hitherto have been relating to the army and air force and the maritime domain has not been included so far. At a time when the navies of the two countries are poised to expand beyond their territorial waters thus offering possibilities for both conflict and cooperation, it is only prudent that CBMs also be evolved between the navies of the two countries. In recent times China has been active in the Indian Ocean and India in the Asia-Pacific. Only in September last year the Financial Times had reported that the Indian naval ship Airawat was challenged by the Chinese Navy in the South China Sea. In view of the Indian Navy’s increasing engagement in the Asia-Pacific and particularly in view of ONGC Videsh’s oil and natural gas exploration bids in the disputed and sensitive South China Sea, there is an imperative need for Naval CBMs between the two countries. Recently, the Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Nirmal Verma broached the idea of a ‘hot line’ between the two naval headquarters.

    The border talks have so far proceeded at a snail’s pace. Although not much is expected from this round of border talks, some incremental forward movement cannot be ruled out in terms of creating additional institutional mechanisms to deal with frequent border transgressions from the Chinese side.