Border resolution main focus of 21st Indo-China meet on Friday
National security advisor Ajit Doval leaves for the city of Chengdu in South-west China on Thursday for the 21st round of Special Representative Dialogues between India and China on boundary resolution.
He will discuss strategic issues with state councillor and foreign minister Wang Yi with the focus on maintaining status quo along the 3,488 kilometre Line of Actual Control (LAC) between the two countries even as India enters an election season that effectively ends only in mid-2019. The crucial SR dialogue is on November 23-24 and, significantly, has been scheduled outside Beijing.
This is Wang’s first talks as China’s designated SR; he took over from former SR Yang Jiechi earlier this year. The mechanism was put in place in 2003 with the mandate of achieving a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution for the India-China border question at an early date.
The 20th round was held in India last year, the first one after the 73-day standoff between border troops at Doklam (Donglang in Chinese) near the Sikkim border in 2017 was resolved.
While the objective of the dialogue is peace and tranquillity along the LAC, both sides are veering towards the reality that despite claims on territory under occupation by the other side, the best option is “as it is; where it is”.
India claims 38,000 square kilometers land in the Aksai Chin region of Eastern Ladakh with another 5,180 kilometre illegally ceded by Pakistan to Beijing in 1963. China covers 90,000 square-kilometre territory, a large chunk of Arunachal Pradesh or what Beijing calls South Tibet.
The fact is that, the solution to the boundary issue does not lie in historical claims as ancient Indian religious scriptures repeatedly mention unhindered pilgrimage to Mansarover lake in Tibet and the Chinese talk about historical claims to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh.
According to diplomats based in New Delhi and Beijing, the basic purpose of the dialogue apart from resolution of the vexed boundary issue is to maintain peace along the largely undefined or loosely defined LAC in the Western and Eastern sector.
The two special representatives will stress on continuous military exchanges on the border so that either of side does not take any unilateral steps on the border. This bilateral assurance is significant to the Modi government as India goes into the general election mode immediately after the ongoing assembly election results come out next month.
“As for the issue of the border talks under the strategic guidance of the two leaders, China-India relations have maintained sound momentum of growth. The two sides have maintained close communication and coordination in all border-related affairs,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Geng Shuang, said.
“We have properly managed the differences through dialogue and consultation. The border areas on the whole maintained stability,” he said.
Apart from boundary issues, the two special representatives will discuss the security environment in the region and beyond, with councillor Wang expected to stress that China’s belt road initiative through Pakistan is not aimed at India but purely an economic initiative.
India has opposed the BRI in Pakistan from day one as the road passes through occupied Kashmir.
India is aware that China has increased its economic leverage with Pakistan by committing $3 billion as loan to tide over the IMF payment crisis faced by the Imran Khan government with an option of more loans to plug any gap. In this context, Saudi Arabia has committed another $ 6 billion to Pakistan with the hope that Islamabad will use its good offices with Turkey to soft pedal the Jamal Kashoggi killing. The UAE has committed another $ 3 billion.
Talks with the Taliban with the focus on stabilising Afghanistan will also feature in the strategic part of the SR dialogue as China is opposed to continued US presence in Kabul while India wants the Americans to stay so that the restive region is not again taken over by ultra conservative Islamists of different hues.
Referring to the informal summit between Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in April, Geng said: “They (the officials) will follow the guidance of the consensus reached by the two leaders bearing in mind the general picture of the bilateral ties and benefits of the two peoples on the basis of the outcomes that have been achieved to actively promote the negotiations.”
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