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India-China Border Talks Make No Headway

May 23, 2015 (Photo Credit: DIPTENDU DUTTA/ AFP)

NEW DELHI — Following recent summit talks, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang have agreed to seek what both called a "fair resolution" to the border dispute between the two countries.

Defense analysts and officials in New Delhi, however, said the talks have not made any headway in resolving the issue.

"The border between the two countries is 4,056 kilometers of area, mostly in mountainous terrain, called Line of Actual Control [LAC], which is neither marked on the ground nor on mutually acceptable maps," defense analyst Nitin Mehta said.

Chinese officials declined to comment.

The latest talks were an attempt by the Modi government to formalize the LAC to ease border tension, said an Indian Ministry of External Affairs official.

The size of the disputed territory and the complexity of the issue means it will not be easily resolved, Mehta said, adding that the two "big neighbors will remain rivals."

China claims 92,000 square kilometers of Indian territory.

A joint statement issued in Beijing after the May 14 talks says, "The two sides acknowledged the positive role of the Agreements and Protocols that have been signed so far in maintaining peace and tranquility in the border areas. Committed to enhance border defense cooperation, the two sides will carry out annual visits and exchanges between the two Military Headquarters and neighboring military commands, endeavour to operationalize the hotline between the two Military Headquarters, expand the exchanges between the border commanders, and establish border personnel meeting points at all sectors of the India-China border areas."

A Defence Ministry official said there have not even been any attempts to establish a formal mechanism to improve security at the borders and check infiltration into Indian territory. The chances of finding a solution to the "long boundary is a long way off," the official said.

"Beijing wants to keep the boundary dispute alive and India will have to be prepared to fight a war with both Pakistan and China simultaneously at a future date because the boundary dispute can suddenly flare up," Mehta said.

Modi also held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, which included confidence-building measures in addition to the boundary issue, said the Ministry of External Affairs official.

Shreyas Deshmukh, researcher with the New Delhi-based Centre for Land Warfare Studies, said, " India-China relations are built on three different tangents which are cooperation, competition and confrontation. However, I do not see any solution at the confrontation level in the near future but in the long term if cooperation increases then there will be a compromise."

The boundary dispute includes other issues, such as the status of refugees from Tibet. Venkataraman Mahalingam, retired Indian Army brigadier general and defense analyst, said the boundary issue can be resolved if all the related issues are also solved.

"Yes. It can be solved [the boundary dispute]. It may, however, take some time. The boundary dispute and connected issues include border delimitation in the Western Sector [Aksai Chin], the Middle Sector [Ladakh to Nepal and Sikkim], the Eastern Sector [Arunachal Pradesh], the question of Tibet's status and the return of Shaksgam Valley, a part of Jammu & Kashmir ceded to China by Pakistan in 1963. The boundary issue cannot be resolved peacefully without a solution to the status of Tibet and the return of over 94,000 registered refugees in India. The unofficial figures are estimated to be around 150,000."

The chances are good of finding a solution to the boundary dispute because the Modi government has a full majority in the Lower House of Parliament backed by the big mandate in last year's elections, said Mahindra Singh, retired Indian Army major general.

The Modi government can take bold decisions to resolve the boundary dispute handed over from history, Singh said.

A senior Indian Army official, however, said India should prepare to fight a war and not take the situation lightly. "The situation can deteriorate any moment" because the border is "not defined."


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