New Delhi: India and China began talks on Friday to resolve their long simmering border dispute, but hopes of any progress are expected to grind against a recent spike in geopolitical tensions as well as muscle flexing along the border.
India’s national security adviser M.K. Narayanan and Chinese state councillor Dai Bingguo resumed the talks after a year’s gap, focusing on narrowing down differences along their Himalayan border. Twelve rounds of talks have been held before.
The two are also expected to talk the language of partnership, highlighted by a burgeoning trade and a common position on climate change and global trade talks.
Yet, traditional mistrust since a bloody 1962 war and sparring in recent months over what New Delhi says is China’s interference in India’s strategic matters could cloud the talks.
“The outlook of this round (of talks) is certainly not good,” said New Delhi-based strategic analyst Brahma Chellaney.
“The atmosphere has deteriorated in the recent months, plus there’s been escalation of tensions along the Himalayan border.”
Feathers were ruffled two months ago when China objected to a $60 million Asian Development Bank loan for a project in northeast India in territory that is claimed by Beijing.
India officials say China also tried to block its efforts to get the United Nations to designate a Pakistan-based militant leader a terrorist, as well as privately lobbied against a nuclear deal between India and the United States last year.
Of late, Chinese patrolling of the 3,500-km (2,200-mile) border, particularly along Arunachal Pradesh state, which Beijing claims as its territory, has also been markedly assertive, Indian officials said.
All this, some analysts said, was largely consistent with Chinese policy towards India, but New Delhi saw it as an increasing assertiveness as part of Beijing’s overall “Rising China” strategy.
In response, India began to modernise its border roads and moved a squadron of Su-30 strike aircraft close to the border. Arunachal governor J.J. Singh, said in June up to 30,000 new troops would be deployed in the area.
The reaction in Chinese official media has been strong. An editorial in the Global Times said China would never compromise on the border dispute and asked India to consider if it could afford the consequences of a conflict with China.
“The Chinese government is trying to say that the public opinion in China is in favour of a more assertive stand towards India,” B. Raman, former head of RAW, said.
Others say it is a warning from China that India must back down from its military posturing.
That said, China may not want to escalate the border dispute now, given that it already has so much on its plate: from dealing with its restive Xinjiang region to fleshing out its relations with the United States and winning a bigger global role.
So after 28 years of negotiations, there appears little hope of a breakthrough — the two sides have never even agreed on a military line separating the two armies.
“They wouldn’t want to open too many fronts. So I expect status quo to be maintained in the talks,” said Bhaskar Roy, a China expert.