India-China joint statement stresses need for more confidence building
The joint statement issued after the foreign ministers of India and China met in Moscow proposes a new set of confidence building measures (CBMs) to maintain peace along the disputed boundary, an indication that existing bilateral agreements have failed to cover the cracks in trust between the troops of the two countries at the border.
“The two foreign ministers agreed that as the situation eases, the two sides should expedite the completion of new mutual trust-building measures to maintain and enhance peace and tranquility in the border area,” said the statement issued after external affairs minister S Jaishankar and Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi met in Moscow on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) foreign ministers’ meeting on Thursday.
It did not detail what the CBMs could be but does indicate New Delhi and Beijing believe more measures need to be put in place before the situation spirals out of control in the hostile Himalayan terrain.
The priority, of course, is first to disengage the two militaries along the points of friction.
The ongoing, four-month long tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh indicates that some half-a-dozen boundary agreements and dozens of rounds of talks – including 22 rounds under the high-profile Special Representatives (SR) mechanism – failed to prevent what happened on the night of June 15 in Galwan Valley – the death of soldiers and the rapid erosion of trust.
Until now, the main agreements which bind New Delhi and Beijing to maintain peace at the border are the Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control in the Sino-Indian Border (1993), Agreement on Confidence-Building Measures in the Military Field along the Line of Actual Control in the Sino-Indian Border (1996), and Border Defence Cooperation Agreement between India and China (2013), which list ways to reduce misunderstandings between the two countries along the border, including prohibiting one side from actively following or tailing the patrols of the other side.
Other agreements signed in 2005 and 2012 talk about building CBMs, the political parameters and guiding principles of settling the boundary question and the setting up of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on China-India Border Affairs.
New Delhi believes that Beijing’s action at Galwan Valley reneged on three of the key bilateral agreements – of 1993, 1996 and 2013 – which have kept the disputed boundary mostly quiet.
Evidently, more needs to be done.
“The Indian side does not consider the development of India-China relations to be dependent on the settlement of the boundary question and India does not want to go backwards,” a read-out from China on the meeting said, quoting Jaishankar.
It is, however, fairly clear that the boundary issue, especially after the current round of tension and the death of troops, are tied to the overall relationship.
The friction and violence have impacted economic and trade ties besides dampening people-to-people exchanges – all in a year that’s marking the 70th anniversary of the establishment of Sino-India diplomatic relations.
The new round of friction has also hit the expanding economic interdependence between the two countries.
To be sure, the planned new CBMs to maintain peace at the border need to zero in on and address the gaps in trust at the ground-level between the two militaries.
The problem is the fact that LAC is not demarcated – perceptions differ on both sides.
There also needs to be a consensus among the top leadership on the new CBMs, which may not be that easy.
“Both leaders (Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping) are embracing a more assertive posture toward all rivals, including each other; attributing military tensions to the other side’s hostility, and demanding that soldiers be firm to defend national borders and strongly push back against perceived aggression,” Toby Dalton and Tong Zhao from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace write in a research paper on the ongoing tensions.
Jaishankar and Wang, however, seem to agree that there is an urgent need to disengage from the hostility and reset the engagement both diplomatically and militarily.
According to the India-China joint statement, both agreed “the current situation in the border areas is not in the interest of either side”, and “therefore...the border troops of both sides should continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions.”
The ministers agreed that “both sides shall abide by all the existing agreements and protocol on China-India boundary affairs, maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas and avoid any action that could escalate matters.”
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