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Modi-Xi meet: Why breakthrough on border issue is unlikely

May 13, 2015 13:12 IST
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Nevertheless, border dispute will feature prominently on Modi's agenda but the matter won't be discussed at length. Nayanima Basu reports


Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China from May 14 to May 16 is unlikely to see any forward movement on the border dispute settlement process with the main focus of his trip being boosting trade and economic ties.

While the settlement of the border dispute will feature prominently in his agenda, the matter will not be discussed at length when Modi holds a summit-level meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to sources.

This will be the third such bilateral meeting between the two leaders. They last met in September 2014, when Xi was on a visit to India. Incidentally, as both the leaders were discussing matters of bilateral importance, there were reports of incursions by the Chinese troop in the Chumar region.

“All issues of bilateral importance between both the countries will be taken up during the (summit-level) meeting,” Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar said in New Delhi on Tuesday.

In March this year, the special representatives of India and China, Ajit Doval, National Security Advisor and Yang Jiechi, State Councillor, met in New Delhi for the 18th round of talks on settling the border dispute and demarcating the Line of Actual Control.

The last time when the leaders had met, there were widespread concerns that India did not take up the border issue strongly. The joint statement issued after the meeting merely stated that both sides would maintain “peace and tranquillity on the border areas”.

Modi, on other hand, categorically stated that the development of the bilateral relations rested on a stable LAC. Recently, in an interview to the TIME magazine, Modi stated that there had been “no bullets fired” between India and China in the past 50 years. This was due to the fact that both sides had signed Peace and Tranquillity Treaty of 1993.

However, experts believe even though there had been no firing as such, the borders areas have not been free of tensions and have been marked by frequent confrontations. Analysts think settling the border issue would be beneficial for the smooth flow of trade and investments. They believe with both sides having a strong leadership, it is time that the two countries make a progress on the issue.

“Settling the border dispute will require political will on both sides to determine the terms and conditions. The issue really is whether we both are ready to travel the same distance, there needs to be an alignment on that... We have been talking for so long, so both understand each other’s position well. Leaders should not only focus on economic issues but there are security concerns as well and those issues need to be high on the agenda,” said former foreign secretary Shyam Saran, chairman, RIS.

The Chinese position, according to Saran, is the entire eastern sector -- the whole of Arunachal Pradesh -- belongs to it. In the western sector, the Chinese lay claims on Aksai Chin and certain portions of the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as well.

Saran also highlighted that both sides were successfully able to put in place a number of confidence building measures such as flag meetings of border personnel, and regular contacts between the border forces of the two countries.

During the recent meeting of the SRs, it was decided that such contacts between border forces across the LAC should be expanded. The SRs also decided to continue their discussions to reach a mutually acceptable framework for resolution of the boundary question on the basis of the Agreement on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles. 

“China would lose whatever it has if they go into a near war-like situation. The same goes for us now that we are focused on economic development. So far, everything has been well managed. Modi’s visit will be an opportunity to take the process forward, but where it will take us remains to be seen,” said Manoj Joshi, distinguished fellow, Observer Research Foundation.

During her visit to Beijing in February, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had stated that an “out-of-box solution may still come” on the India-China border dispute settlement issue, even as the Chinese maintained the matter be passed on to the “next generation”, while both sides will continue to “patiently manage difference.” 

According to Srikanth Kondapalli, head, Centre of East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, the Chinese government is not ready for territorial dispute resolution. As a result, it will be difficult for India to progress on this issue even if it wants to close the chapter at the earliest.  “India, ideally, cannot press the issue beyond a point because the Chinese have clearly said they want to relegate the issue for a future time. This is now left with the SRs to take it forward, which is also moving much slowly than it was assumed,” he said.

In 2013, there was a significant standoff between the Chinese and Indian troops prior to the visit of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in the Depsang valley of the western sector.

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