The 18th round of dialogue between China and India on the festering border question will be held early next week when a Chinese delegation headed by one of the country’s senior-most diplomats head to New Delhi.
State councillor and China’s special representative (SR) Yang Jiechi will hold talks with national security adviser and India’s Special Representative, Ajit Doval, to take forward the complex and long-drawn dialogue to resolve the issue, which keeps gnawing at the apparent Sino-Indian bonhomie of recent years.
The latest round will take place after more than a year: the last round was held in February, 2014, between Yang and former NSA, Shivshankar Menon, also in New Delhi (Though Doval did visit Beijing last year as a Special Envoy in his capacity as the NSA.)
Next week’s meeting will mark Doval’s first engagement with Chinese diplomats in his fairly new capacity as the India’s SR for the border talks.
The talks, likely to be on March 23, will take place in the background of China summoning India’s ambassador in Beijing, AK Kantha, to protest Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh in February.
Modi’s visit to Arunachal – which China claims as part of South Tibet – was brief but was enough for the government to summon Kantha and criticise the tour in strong terms.
Modi himself is expected in China in May.
It was during then PM Atal Behari Vajpayee’s China visit in 2003 that both countries had agreed to the SR-level mechanism to resolve the border question.
The resolution will follow a three-stage process: the two countries first agreed on the Guiding Principles and Political Parameters for the settlement in 2005.
The current stage is about evolving a framework to resolve the dispute. Finally, it will about marking the accepted boundary lines.
Doval and Yang last met on the sidelines of the 51st Munich Security Conference in Munich in February where both pledged to “remove disturbances” and strengthen the positive trend of China-India relations”.
“The official proposed to respect and look after each other's concerns, to push forward negotiations over boundaries, and to effectively maintain the peace and safety of border areas,” Chinese state media had reported.
But that was before Modi’s visit to Arunachal.
At the recently concluded China’s annual Parliament session in Beijing, foreign minister Wang Yi had said while talks over the border were progressing, the process was like climbing a mountain which gets tougher closer to the summit.
“After many years of hard efforts, the border talks continue to make progress, and the dispute has been brought under control,” Wang told reporters.
“At the moment, the boundary negotiation is in the process of building up small and positive developments,” Wang said, adding: “It's like climbing a mountain: the going is tough, and that is only because we are on the way up.”