SPEAKING FREELY Modi must resolve Sino-Indian border row
By Rup Narayan Das
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows
guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his interaction with President Xi Jinping of China along the sidelines of the BRICS summit held in July, very thoughtfully said that if the two countries "could amicably resolve the boundary question, it would be an example for the entire world on peaceful conflict resolution". For a fairly long time the two countries, particularly China, have been maintaining that pending the settlement of the border dispute the
two countries must forge all-round development in their bilateral relations.
There has been increasing emphasis on economic engagement. In this respect China has been more aggressive. The reasons are not difficult to fathom. India's burgeoning economy and the rising middle class offer a huge opportunity to the appetite of the Chinese economy, particularly at a time when its market in the West and Europe are declining.
The trade between the two countries has increased from a miniscule US$2.92 billion in 2000 to a staggering $74 billion in 2011 which, however, declined to $65.47 billion last year. The flip side to this story is adverse balance of trade to the tune $31.4 billion against India, which has been pleading with China to neutralize the trade imbalance but without much success.
While trade imbalance has been a major issue in the bilateral relations, frequent border incursions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) create fresh bouts of stresses in the relations between the two countries. The approach of the two countries has been that there has been over lapping perceptions with regard to the LAC leading to border incursions at times. Be that as it may, border incursions and its adverse publicity in the media, particularly in the electronic media, tends to harden people's perception and creates an impression of the Indian government's pusillanimous attitude towards its northern neighbor.
The massive border incursion along the LAC at Depsang Bulge in April last year and the three-week long face-off between the two armies is only a stark reminder of the harmful effects of border transgression. It was against this backdrop that New Delhi was constrained to assert during the visit of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to India in May last year that peace and tranquility along the border was critical to the overall bilateral relations between the two countries, including economic engagement. Border transgressions are bound to happen to register claims and counter-claims of territory by both the countries so long as the LAC is not demarcated.
True, there have been a slew of Confidence Building Measures and mechanisms like the border personnel meetings and flag meetings to address such issues of border incursions. They have been successful in defusing the stand-offs, but have not been able to preempt them.
The Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas signed between the two countries during the visit of prime minister Narasimha Rao in September 1993 said that the boundary question shall be resolved through peaceful and friendly consultations and that neither side shall use or threaten to use force against the other by any means. The Agreement further said that "the two sides shall strictly respect and observe the line of actual control between the two sides". It also provided detailed guidelines as to how to handle incursions.
With regard to bringing more clarity on the LAC, the Agreement mentioned that experts shall advise the Joint Working Group (JWG), established during the visit of prime minister Rajiv Gandhi to China in 1988, "on the resolution of the differences between the two sides on the alignment of the Line of Actual Control".
The CBM in the Military Field in the LAC, signed during the visit of the Chinese premier Jiang Zemin to India in 1996, while reiterating the earlier provisions, emphasized that the two sides agreed to speed up the process of clarification and confirmation in the LAC. It further said that "as an initial step in this process, they are clarifying the alignment of the line of actual control in those segments where they have different perceptions. They also agree to exchange maps indicating their respective perceptions of the entire alignment of the Line of Actual Control as soon as possible".
Even after 18 years, it seems that the inertia still lingers, even though the bilateral trade has increased manifold, and so has the trade imbalance against India.
An argument has been that the lack of strong political will and resolve of the leadership has been responsible for not having a breakthrough in the border dispute. The Chinese stance has been that the boundary question, an issue left over by history, is highly complicated.
Dai Bingguo, the longest-serving Chinese representative and the former State Councilor, who retired from the post in 2012, in an interview had said that an early settlement of the border dispute would serve the fundamental interests of the two countries and their people. As far as India is concerned, there exists a broad consensus among the major political parties with regard to India's policy and approach towards China.
Both the United Progressive Alliance under the Congress and the National Democratic Alliance under the the Bharatiya Janata Party have contributed towards India's engagement with China. There was a time when China didn't recognize Sikkim, but Beijing recognized India's sovereignty over Sikkim in 2003 during prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's visit to China. It is time now that Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes the political parties on board and make attempts to resolve the lingering border issue.
This is easier said than done, but politics is the art of possible. In both the countries now there is strong and stable leadership, which are likely to be in power for a fairly long time. Given the broad national consensus in the political spectrum, it won't be difficult to resolve the territorial issues between the two countries.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
Rup Narayan Das is a senior fellow with the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, on deputation from the Legislature Secretariat of the Indian Parliament, where he is Director, Research. His columns have appeared, among others, in China Brief of the Jamestown Foundation.