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Home > India > News > Columnists > Rup Narayan Das

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Steady progress at Sino-India talks

September 23, 2008

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Yet another round talks spread over two days, the 12th in the series, on the border dispute between India and China concluded in Beijing [Images] last week. The talks were led by India's National Security Advisor M K Narayanan and Chinese Special Representative Dai Bingguo, China's vice-foreign minister, who has since been elevated to the position of State Councillor.

Although one major reason for souring of relationship between India and China was the border issue, positive developments in the bilateral relationship in last few years after the normalisation of relationship have over shadowed the vexed border dispute regarded as a burden of the past.

The relationship between the two countries has not been held hostage to the border dispute. At the same time, however, the two countries know well that they can ill afford to ignore the dispute; because it is an issue which is high in the national self esteem of the two countries. The two countries have thus adopted a very pragmatic approach of first creating a climate of mutual understanding, appreciation and accommodation and then to address the border issue with an open mind receptive to new ideas. With this spirit and openness both the countries have addressed the border issue thoughtfully and imaginatively.

With an objective of providing an institutional mechanism to address the border issue on a continuous basis, the Joint Working Group was established during the visit of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to China in 1988 to air, appreciate and articulate each other's views regarding the complex border issue and facilitate talks at higher political level with the objective of finding a solution.

To aid and assist the Joint Working Group, Special Representatives were appointed in 2003 to take a political view of the border dispute. After hectic parleys, the two sides agreed on political parameters and guiding principles for settling the border dispute between the two countries in April 2005. Article III of the guiding principles stipulates that "both sides should, in the spirit of mutual respect and mutual understanding, make meaningful and mutually acceptable adjustments to their respective positions on the boundary question, to arrive at a package settlement to boundary question".

The guiding principle further envisages that the settlement has to be a package deal covering all sectors of the boundary -- western, middle and eastern. While the negotiation on this sensitive issue may not be that easy, the improvement in the bilateral relationship between the two countries and the convergence of approach and outlook, in turn, has created a very conducive condition for the border parleys, not withstanding irritants such as denial of visa to a civil servant from Arunachal Pradesh, a part of which China claims belongs to it.

There is a perception that these talks are nothing more than talking about talks. But a deeper analysis suggests that this is not so.

Unlike Indo-Pak talks, which are equally sensitive, India-China border talks have been low-key without arousing any kind of unrealistic optimism or expectation. Talks have been slow, but steady, without meeting any roadblock. This is symbolic of maturing of relationship between the two countries which has been achieved over the years. The progress though incremental has been structured, focused and devoid of exuberance. China over the years has mastered the dexterity and finesse of diplomacy and negotiation. Perhaps nothing more can illustrate this than the Sino-British agreement on the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong a decade ago after a protracted negotiation spread over more than a decade.

Negotiations on such issues are time consuming as they take into account a complex matrix of factors. China in recent past has, however, successfully concluded a number of border issues left over by history with a number of South-east Asian countries sharing a land border or maritime border with it and with regard to the overseas Chinese whom it call the sojourners and also with Central Asian Republics such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in late 1990's and early 2000's.

Given the present warm relationship between the two countries, not withstanding China's role at the Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting in Vienna [Images], perhaps a breakthrough in the border talks can not be ruled out in near future preparing a propitious ground for the forthcoming visit of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh [Images] to Beijing next month to take part in the Asia Pacific Conference. It need not be an absolute solution, but may be a modality to arrive at a solution.


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