Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, right, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang inspect Chinese honor guards in Beijing Oct. 23. The countries discussed ways to reduce border tensions. (Agence France-Presse)
NEW DELHI — India has made small but steady progress improving political and defense relations with China and Russia, signing a border cooperation agreement with Beijing and agreeing with Moscow to purchase another nuclear sub.
Still, the border issue with China has not been solved and a joint combat fighter effort with Russia remains unsettled.
India and China, on Oct. 22, inked the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA) during Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Beijing, establishing a formal mechanism to improve security along their 4,056-kilometer Line of Actual Control (LAC), which is the disputed border between the countries.
The four-page BDCA was signed by Indian Defence Secretary R.K. Mathur and Lt. Gen. Sun Jianguo, Chinese People’s Liberation Army deputy chief of General Staff. The agreement is the fourth confidence-building agreement signed by the countries since 1993, an Indian Defence Ministry official said.
Despite the BDCA, no final agreement appears to be in the offing on the border dispute between India and China over which the two countries fought a brief battle in 1962, said an Indian Army official. China claims 92,000 square kilometers of Indian territory and the border between India and China is currently defined by the LAC, which is neither marked on the ground nor on mutually accepted maps.
“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. ... Boundaries will become gradually less important and get marginalized,” said Swaran Singh, professor for diplomacy and disarmament at Jawahar Lal Nehru University.
The Army official said the BDCA would help improve understanding between the armies stationed along the border because there will be regular meetings at a senior officer level. Border personnel will meet at designated positions along the LAC, and there will be periodic meetings between officials of the defense ministries, an Indian Defence Ministry official said.
The two countries are trying to reduce tensions along their borders, which has been exacerbated by frequent incursions by China, said the Army official. In April, troops of the two countries came face to face for 21 days in the Ladakh region of the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, where Chinese soldiers planted tents inside Indian territory.
New Delhi and Beijing have kept a low-key diplomatic stance regarding these incursions to avoid a confrontation.
India and China held several discussions on the BDCA beginning in January, but after the incursion by Chinese troops in the Ladakh region, the pace of negotiations quickened. During Defence Minister A.K. Antony’s visit to China in July, the two sides agreed to quickly conclude negotiations.
While no Indian official or analyst is optimistic of an early settlement of the boundary dispute, there is unanimity that India needs to be concerned about Chinese military modernization and its growing footprint in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region.
“Attempts to find a resolution of the boundary dispute between India and China should be combined with military capacity building and defense preparedness by India,” said defense analyst Nitin Mehta.
Russian Naval Deal
Meanwhile, Singh and Russian President Vladmir Putin did not sign any new defense pact during their Oct. 20-22 meeting in Moscow, but Indian Defence Ministry sources said an agreement was reached to acquire another nuclear submarine.
The Navy will finance the construction of and then lease the Akula-class vessel for more than US $1.2 billion over its lifetime. Under the lease, Russia will handle maintenance and overhauls. India operates another Akula nuclear submarine, the Nerpa, which was inducted on lease from Russia in April last year.
The highlight of the new Akula submarine, which India hopes to induct in about four years, will be its ability to mount the Indo-Russian BrahMos, a supersonic cruise missile, which has a range of 290 kilometers, said a Defence Ministry source.
Akula-class submarines are able to carry nuclear missiles that have a range of 3,000 kilometers, but the Nerpa is armed with the Klub missile that has a range of less than 300 kilometers.
The Defence Ministry source said the agreement to lease the nuclear submarine would not be included in public joint statements but confirmed that an agreement has been reached.
The joint statement issued by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs after Singh and Putin met merely said, “The sides emphasized that the traditionally close military and technical cooperation between the two countries was a crucial element of the strategic partnership and reflected the high level of trust between the two states.”
India and Russia still have not finalized a work-sharing agreement on the joint Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) project, an issue that also figured in the Moscow talks. Antony said he would discuss the work-sharing on FGFA during his visit to Russia in November, the Defence Ministry source added. India, which is contributing 50 percent of the development costs, wants to increase its work share, which is said to be less than 20 percent. India also plans to pay more than $25 billion for the aircraft.
In 2010, a preliminary agreement was drawn between state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. and Russia’s Sukhoi Design Bureau to jointly develop the FGFA, but a final contract has still not been reached.
India has been trying to maintain equal relations with Russia and Western sources as it forges defense ties since the United Progressive Alliance government came to power in 2005. But announcements of major defense projects are not made in summit talks, said analyst Mehta.
“If the joint statement of the Oct. 21 summit level in Moscow does not mention any major defense project, it should not be read that defense ties between India and Russia are tapering off,” Mehta added.