China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited India for the border talks with India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. Wang also called upon Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu. The Special Representative Talks this time were significant due to certain factors. Indian Prime Minister and Chinese President held their 2nd Informal Summit at Mamallapuram near Chennai in October 2019. At the end of the summit, both leaders had come to an understanding that more confidence building measures (CBMs) would be worked out between the two countries so that borders are peaceful.
Echoing the sentiment, NSA Ajit Doval stated that leadership on both sides have “offered a new vision and strategic guidance for the development of bilateral relations and the settlement of boundary question”. The Chinese side has stated that after the talks both India and China have agreed to “formulate management rules”, and “strengthen communication and exchanges between the border forces, add border meeting points”. Therefore, the takeaway from this border talks is that both sides have agreed, given the uncertainty of security environment and rapid military modernisation, they needed more measures to prevent any missteps in border management and institute further engagement between the two militaries.
The 22nd border talks was the first one after India changed the status of Ladakh into a Union Territory. After the revocation of Special Status of Jammu and Kashmir, China has been vociferous in its objection to the change of domestic status of Ladakh and has in general supported Pakistan in its actions towards bringing the issue of Kashmir to the United Nations Security Council. However, this was thwarted by India.
Just before the border talks, China once again, proposed a meeting to discuss the Kashmir issue. However, the meeting was postponed as the UN peacekeeping mission was not able to brief the members about the situation. China’s Ambassador to the UN has, however, stated that he would request a meeting after the report by the UN peacekeeping mission is ready. Indian has categorically stated that both sides share a consensus that they should “respect each other’s sensitivities and concerns “to build mutual trust” meaning China has to be more sensitive about India’s actions that New Delhi takes to protect her national interests.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has stated that China has put forward a “practical framework” for negotiations on resolving the boundary question and has “attracted India’s attention”. This is one of the few positive statements that have come about the border talks in the recent years. Though lacking in details about the exact nature of the framework or whether the Indian side is considering its merits are still unknown. Even before the border talks started, Wang Yi had mentioned that both sides would exchange views on the delimitation of the boundary. Though they were not able to sign any agreement regarding the framework for negotiation of a final road map, there is evidence that both sides have given their commitment to develop this framework that is mutually acceptable.
The border talks are also significant because both countries would be celebrating 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations next year. So, it is important to make some headway as both countries seem to be planning for major improvements in their bilateral relations marking the opportunity. The plans for next year seems to centre on emphasising exchanges and people-to-people cooperation. China calls it ‘social and public foundation of friendship’ and developing understanding about each other’s cultural modes seems to be a priority. This also echoes Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s approach to thinking beyond geo-political lens to encourage bilateral cooperation using the cultural heritage of both countries.
Overall, given that India-China relations have seen many ups and downs, the border talks have given a positive vibe that could set the tone for the India-China bilateral relationship in the years to come.
Script: Dr. M S Prathibha, Strategic Analyst in Chinese Affairs