Home / Editorial / NSA Doval’s talks yield incremental progress on border dispute with China

NSA Doval’s talks yield incremental progress on border dispute with China

NEW DELHI,IFTIKHAR GILANI: Just within a week, India in a third official interaction with Chinese leadership, raised the issue of Beijing vetoing New Delhi’s bid to get the Pathankot attack mastermind Maulana Masood Azhar designated as terrorist by the UN Sanctions Committee. The Chinese, however, said they would resolve differences over the issue, without further elaborating.

On Wednesday, India and China concluded the 19th round of talks to resolve border dispute, amidst renewed tensions arising out of China’s veto and India entering into a Logistics Support Agreement, to allow the US military to use its land, air and naval bases for resupplies, repair and rest.

National security advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval held discussions with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi, besides calling on the top leadership. Both have been designated as special representatives by the respective governments to deal with border issue. Earlier on Monday, defence minister Manohar Parrikar held extensive talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and top generals. It also coincided with a meeting between external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj holding talks with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Moscow.

Though both sides were tight-lipped on whether India’s “in principle” move of signing a logistics support agreement with the US was taken up at the meeting of special representatives, sources said the Beijing had raised the issue last Monday with Parrikar. Earlier, China criticised US defence secretary Ash Carter’s decision to drop Beijing from his Asia itinerary which took him to India and the Philippines.

On the border dispute, officials on both sides said the protracted boundary talks made progress. They also took satisfaction that there has been no major disruptions since 1986, as compared to the incessant firing incidents and infiltration on the Indo-Pak borders. Soon after assuming office, Prime Minister Modi has been actively engaging Beijing. It was also noted that there has been a sharp decline in border incidents, following Modi’s visit to China in May 2015.

Doval’s visit was also seen as an attempt by Modi government to sensitise Chinese leadership about India’s concerns on terrorism, in the wake of their second attempt to block India’s bids to get the Pakistan terror group’s leaders banned at the UN. Officials here say that while Azhar’s listing was cleared by the four other UN Security Council (UNSC) permanent members, China has put a “technical hold”, like it did in the case of Mumbai terror attack mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi earlier. Sources said he took up the issue of “terrorism” during his talks. Besides, India is interested in a more detailed conversation with the Chinese on the quadrilateral dialogue on Afghanistan, which excludes India and Russia, but includes China, Pakistan, the United States and Afghanistan.

The mechanism of the special representatives was established in 2003. Since then, both sides have reached an agreement on the guiding principles and setting political parameters for the settlement. Officials say the special representatives are currently in the second stage, focusing on working out a framework of settlement to be followed by final step drawing the boundary line based on a framework agreement.

On the 19th round of border talks, Hua said “we have been working to resolve territorial disputes through negotiations and consultation. China completely settled territorial disputes with 12 of the 14 land neighbours.” Only the border dispute with India and Bhutan is needed to be resolved.

After the 1962 war, India had adopted a policy of not developing the border areas. But this policy was reversed in 2008, with the government deciding to undertake phase-wise construction of 27 road links totalling 608km on the India-China border in the states of Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh at an estimated cost of Rs912 crore. In the wake of differences in perception of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), both sides carry out patrolling activity, which often leads to tensions.

Unlike the borders with Pakistan, the ruggedness of terrain along India-China border makes movement of men and materiel extremely difficult. Therefore, there is no intermingling of population. The Chinese are in possession of Aksai Chin in Ladakh district in Jammu and Kashmir, which India claims as its own territory. Chinese also claim Arunachal Pradesh as its territory.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing that it was in close contact with India to resolve differences over the imposition of sanctions on JeM chief, Masood Azhar, “We will continue our close communication with all relevant parties including India and properly resolve the relevant issue,” she said. External affairs ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said Minister Sushma Swaraj has also conveyed to her Chinese counterpart that as common victims of terrorism, both the countries should cooperate in combating the challenge of terrorism.

India has been insisting that pending a final boundary settlement, both sides should engage in clarification positions on the LAC, like in the Western border, where there is a clearly demarcated Line of Control (LoC). But Chinese are not in agreement with the proposition. Instead of demarcating the LAC, they are pushing for a full-fledged border agreement, wherein an international border could be demarcated forever. Indian government sources said that in order to reinforce border stability, the two sides should share information on the actual ground position of troops along the LAC in order to prevent inadvertent transgressions. They say, though China has reservations, but it is not averse to greater elaboration of confidence building measures (CBMs) in order to keep the frontier calm. In tune with the Manmohan Singh government’s decision to expand the framework of Special Representatives talks to include all issues of a strategic nature, Doval has also demanded providing greater market access to items where New Delhi has a comparative advantage such as pharmaceuticals and Information Technology products.

India’s other security concerns include China’s improvement of infrastructure in the Gilgit region of Pakistan occupied Kashmir, where it is engaged in building a railway network as well as a dam.This infrastructure is part of China’s involvement in developing Pakistan’s Gwadar port, which is close to the energy sea lanes passing through the Strait of Hormuz.

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