NEW DELHI — India and China are devising a mechanism to resolve their decades-old boundary dispute, which brought the two countries into brief combat in 1962.
New Chinese Premier Li Keqiang made India the first country he visited after becoming premier. He discussed the boundary dispute with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during talks May 19, and the issue also was deliberated during delegation-level talks here May 20, said an Indian Ministry of External Affairs official.
Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony and National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon will visit Beijing in the next two months to develop a method to help resolve the boundary dispute, said a source in the Ministry of External Affairs.
Last month, troops from the two countries came face to face in the northern region of Ladakh when Chinese troops entered nearly 10 kilometers inside Indian territory across the Line of Actual Control (LAC), which is the boundary between the two countries. The incident threatened to increase tensions, and opposition parties here asked the ruling government to take a tough line against the Chinese intrusion.
The dispute involves the longest contested boundary in the world. China claims 92,000 square kilometers of Indian territory. The border between India and China is defined by the 4,056-kilometer LAC, which is marked neither on the ground nor on mutually accepted maps. Efforts to have a recognized LAC since the mid-1980s have made little headway.
While India is preparing for possible conflict with China, analysts here said there is little likelihood of war in the near future.
“India and China are both strategically unprepared for war. The two Asian giants are presently on the catch-up curve from developing to developed countries. While they are simultaneously modernizing the militaries, the overall national strategies appear to be to maintain the status quo till comprehensive national power reaches a level where surplus can be invested in war making. This stage may be decades away,” said Rahul Bhonsle, retired Indian Army brigadier general and defense analyst.
Indian Defence Ministry officials admit that they still have to prepare to face China as settlement of the boundary dispute could take considerable time.
“At present, it suits China’s interests to put off a solution,” said Gurmeet Kanwal, retired Indian Army brigadier general and defense analyst.
But Rup Narayan Das, senior fellow, Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, insists that resolution of the boundary dispute is in the interest of both countries.
“Now it seems both countries are serious to solve the border issue sooner than later. The problem is to hammer out a mutually acceptable solution, which involves some give-and-take. An impediment to the border problem is the strong nationalism in both the countries. We in India need a political consensus and strong political will to solve the border problem,” Das said.
Lora Saalman, associate, Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, Beijing, said China insists the core issues need to be addressed.
“Putting strategic issues aside to focus only on economic ties means that such flare-ups will continue to erupt. If the border defense cooperation agreement or some other mechanism is successful in actually addressing the real strategic issues that both face, rather than simply papering them over, then the two sides have a good chance of actually embarking upon a more steady and predictable path of engagement,” Saalman said.
Swaran Singh, professor for diplomacy and disarmament, Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the issue might fade in importance over time.
“Forty-three years of border negotiations have ensured peace and tranquility. Given the enormous complex nature of geography, history and politics of their border dispute, it is not likely to be solved; it will gradually become less interesting and exciting for both sides,” Singh said.
In 2005, India and China elevated their ties to a strategic level but Chinese intrusions increased in the last three years, although they have been downplayed at the diplomatic front, an MoD official said.
The summit-level talks focused on enhancing economic cooperation in addition to resolving outstanding issues, the most important of which is the boundary dispute. ■