India is examining a proposal from China for a border defence cooperation pact, according to a person familiar with the developments. The plan was made by China two or three months ago and focuses on expanding friendly contacts between the troops on both sides, a second person close to the developments said.
“We will respond to their proposal; it’s under consideration,” said the first person cited above. “It is not intended to replace any of the existing protocols,” the person said, referring to the pacts signed in 1993, 1996 and 2005.
Referring to the forthcoming visit of Indian foreign minister Salman Khurshid to Beijing on 9-10 May, the person said both sides would look at ways to maintain peace and tranquillity on the borders, given that the visit is taking place within days of the neighbours defusing a tense situation along their undemarcated border that followed Chinese troops entering Indian territory on 15 April.
“It is the first visit (to Beijing) since the new team took over,” the person said, referring to the once-in-a-decade Chinese leadership change that took place in Beijing in March. India will also seek access to Chinese markets for Indian products, especially pharmaceuticals and information technology, the person said, pointing to the major trade deficit in China’s favour in bilateral economic ties.
Asian giants India and China share a relationship of mutual suspicion, mainly stemming from their 1962 war and China’s friendship with India’s arch-rival Pakistan. The undemarcated border between the two is a source of tension, though bilateral trade has been booming. In 2011, bilateral trade was almost $75 billion. Both sides have set a bilateral trade target of $100 billion by 2015.
The unsettled border has often sparked claims and counter-claims of incursions. In the latest incident, India accused the Chinese army of straying into its territory in Depsang valley in Ladakh, a claim denied by China. Two meetings between the nations’ armies have failed to resolve the matter.
“Overall, the relationship had been moving on a very different trajectory in the last few years. Any incident like this will inevitably lead to some questions... Certainly, we want to bring the relationship back on track,” the first person cited said.
As it stands, China claims 90,000 sq. km of Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh and occupies around 38,000 sq. km in Jammu and Kashmir that India claims. Also, under the China-Pakistan boundary agreement signed in March 1963, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 sq. km of Indian territory in PoK (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) to China, the Indian foreign ministry says.
Both sides have a variety of mechanisms at the official, military and political levels—including flag meetings, joint working groups, meetings at the levels of experts and special representatives, besides communication through diplomatic channels—to resolve disputes.
The first person cited denied that India had agreed to any demand from the Chinese side to demolish bunkers near their de facto border in the Himalayas though the person did say Indian troops removed a “tin-shed” construction in the Chumar area of Ladakh region in Kashmir once the two sides ended the stand-off.
India’s military position was 7-8km from the area where the shed had been built and was mainly aimed at sheltering Indian foot patrols in cold and inclement weather, the person said, pointing out that India had not compromised any of its military positions.
When asked if India had issued any warnings that a visit by the newly installed Chinese premier Li Keqiang could be called off if the stand-off did not end with the Chinese pulling back, the person said that India had not issued any such threats. “I think they understood the way the background was developing...that this (the incursions) would impact on our bilateral relations.”
As for India’s assessment about what prompted the Chinese to enter Indian territory, the person said it was “still a bit of a mystery”. One of the reasons could be that the Chinese government wanted to bring the issue of the undemarcated border to the centre stage.
Srikanth Kondapalli, a China expert at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said, “I think they are playing with words. Will this stop tensions between the two countries? The important thing is to define the Line of Actual Control and resolve the territorial dispute.”