India and China on Wednesday held protracted discussions on resolving their border dispute amid concerns that the long-standing issue coupled with Beijing’s block on a bid to sanction JeM chief Masood Azhar at the UN could cool bilateral ties.
National security adviser Ajit Doval flatly declined to share details of the two-hour talks with state councilor Yang Jiechi at Diaoyutai state guest house.
“The talks went well,” Doval told Hindustan Times without elaborating late on Wednesday evening.
China was not forthcoming either.
The two countries had an “extensive, deep and candid” discussion on boundary issues, a brief statement from the Chinese foreign ministry said late on Wednesday night.
“Both sides agreed to adhere to peaceful negotiations to settle the boundary question. They will make efforts to reach a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution,” the statement added.
This was the 19th round of border talks that Doval and Yang held on Wednesday under the “Special Representatives” (SR) framework. The last round was held in New Delhi in March last year.
The delay was probably on Doval’s mind when, in his opening remarks at the consultation, he said the meetings after the last one with Yang did not go as planned.
“We had very useful SR-levels talks in March 2015 and since then we have met at different occasions,” he said. “But not in the way we had decided that we will take time to have more informal and more relaxed interactions, not only talking from the mind but talking from the heart.”
Doval said: “But we do hope that what we couldn’t do in 2015, we will try and make up for that in 2016. There has been improvement in bilateral exchanges between the two countries in various fields.”
Doval will meet Premier Li Keqiang on Thursday before returning to India.
On his part, Yang said: “China-India relations carry special significance. The Chinese side stands ready to use this important occasion to have broad ranging, in-depth and candid discussions with the Indian side on bilateral relations, the boundary question and regional and international issues and other issues of shared interests.”
Candid discussions are indeed needed between India and China to resolve outstanding issues – especially the boundary problem.
China, which has the world’s biggest armed forces, and India maintain two of the largest militaries and their border patrols are frequently involved in stand-offs along the disputed boundary because of differing perceptions on the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The talks are expected to carry forward protracted discussions on the boundary dispute – currently the longest land boundary problem in the world. It has impaired relations between two of the largest economies, acting as an impediment to better economic relations and creating a lack of mutual trust.
Neither of the two sides expects the dispute to be resolved anytime soon but they have focussed on maintaining peace along the border and reducing incursions by border troops.
The two countries fought a brief but vicious war along parts of the disputed border in 1962, which saw Chinese forces defeat the Indian military before withdrawing from captured areas. The war, in turn, impacted relations between the two countries, which had little official contact for decades.
“Both border security forces have once again been disturbed by face-off eventualities in the ‘grey areas’ along the disputed border,” Hu Shisheng, noted South Asian expert at the influential China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told HT.
“In this regard, only thorough military-to-military high-level dialogues can address such mutual suspicions and eventualities So, the military’s mutual trust is of the most significant one in bilateral relations.”
On Monday, defence minister Manohar Parrikar raised the issue of demarcating the LAC during meetings with top officials in Beijing.
“It was one of the processes for a real, smooth border (situation). Otherwise, there is only the perception of the border and so it causes problems. We have concerns about the issue,” he said after his interactions.
“We are insisting that this needs to be done to really ensure a very stable border... all the issues take place because of perception.”
Parrikar said because of the lack of demarcation of the border, soldiers from both sides “transgress” the LAC. Both countries, he said, are close to setting up a military-to-military hotline to quickly resolve incidents along the LAC.