Vajpayee was keen to resolve Sino-India border issue during his lifetime: Former Chinese diplomat
Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was keen to resolve the Sino-India boundary problem during his lifetime and had underlined the need to hasten the negotiation process he initiated in 2003, a former Chinese negotiator in the border talks, says in a book.
According to the then Chinese Special Representative (SR), Dai Bingguo the progress of the talks was jolted within a year by the unexpected defeat of the Vajpayee government in the 2004 elections.
In 2003, Vajpayee had appointed National Security Advisor (NSA) Brajesh Mishra as the first Indian SR while President Hu Jintao named Dai, who was then with international department of the Communist Party of China (CPC), as the Chinese counterpart.
The two SRs first met in October that year.
“During the first and second meeting of the SRs, I said we would try to make some results through three to five years’ negotiation and try to settle it appropriately. Mishra heard and replied, saying ‘if it takes so many years as you say, I wouldn’t be around to see it.’ After the second meeting’s talks, Mishra stopped to convey some words to me for Chinese leaders. PM Vajpayee is already 79 years old and is very concerned about the boundary question,” Dai, recalling the early days of the talks, wrote in his memoir ‘Strategic Dialogues’ published in 2016.
“Mishra himself is already 75 years old and hopes to settle the question as early as possible. The current meetings should exchange some substantial ideas,” Dai wrote indicating that Vajpayee was keen to resolve the festering borer dispute at the earliest.
“Concerning the current international situation and strategic interests, we need to make the public of the two countries realise that solving the boundary question as early as possible is good for the national interest of the two countries,” Dai wrote.
Vajpayee had first proposed that India and China needed designated people to negotiate the boundary – sort of a precursor to the SR mechanism which is the current mechanism for talks -- during his visit to China as foreign minister in the Janata Party government in 1979.
Vajpayee’s 1979 visit – cut short after the Sino-Vietnam war broke out – was the first by an Indian politician since the 1962 war between China and India.
The SR mechanism with designated diplomats from both sides was finally set up almost 25 years later after Vajpayee visited China as Prime Minister in 2003 and stressed on a solution to the border issue quickly.
Vajpayee’s visit to China in 2003 was the first by an Indian PM after PV Narasimha Rao did in 1993.
Vajpayee’s visit was preceded by that of the then defence minister George Fernandes.
“From June 22 to 27, the Indian PM Vajpayee paid an official visit to China. This visit was exceptional because the PM of India, an important neighbour of ours, had never been to China for a decade since Prime Minister Rao in 1993,” Dai wrote.
“Vajpayee’s visit was a major event in India-China history. During this visit both sides announced agreement emphasising that both sides are dedicated to the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, respect each other, accommodate each other’s concerns, and establish a long-term cooperative partnership,” Dai wrote.
“When he went to visit China in 1979 as the Foreign Minister, he proposed that the two countries establish special representatives on boundary question which reflects that he has been thinking about this question for a long time,” Dai wrote.
Vajpayee had a clear idea on how he wanted the SR talks to proceed.
“On June 23, Vajpayee proposed again at the welcome dinner held by Premier Wen Jiabao that both sides appoint SRs. He stressed that the SRs need to detach themselves from the current boundary negotiation mechanism to discuss the framework for solving the boundary question from the political level and report directly to each other’s prime minister.”
Mishra and Dai met a couple of times. Then came the 2004 general election.
“At that time, the BJP had made many achievements and put forward a slogan of ‘India Shining’. PM Vajpayee felt like victory was at hand, and Mishra was also planning to speed up the progress of SR’s meeting after Vajpayee’s expected re-election for the second term,” Dai recollected in his book.
“Nobody expected that the party would lose the elections and Vajpayee would resign. Mishra was also forced to resign as India’s SR.”
“The boundary question special representatives meeting had a good beginning but was later to face some twists and turns, which was a real pity. Later when I went to India I had met with Mishra more than once. He had also visited my hometown in Guizhou. Unfortunately, he left the world a few years later.”
Mishra died in September 2012.
More than 15 years later, the SR talks between India and China continue; the 21st round is expected to be held this year even as the boundary question remains an irritant in Sino-Indian ties.