Trust deficit

China is looking for new ways to impress India as it feels threatened by the growing proximity of India with Japan, South Korea and United States. China wants to handle the border issue with India at a separate level and trade relations at different level.

China, which is keen to have a strong trade and cultural relation with India, wants a political solution on the border dispute along LAC. Due to China’s antagonist nature, Indian leadership is not able to trust the Chinese intention which is affecting China’s trade with India. China is getting a feeling that due to border dispute it is not able to penetrate the Indian trade market easily as a result Japan and South Korea have been able to make a smooth inroad into the Indian economic sector.  

That is why China is willing to negotiate the border issue with Indian side at a different level by offering new solutions and mechanisms every time, but it seems Indian side this time is not getting lured with such gimmicks.

The February 2014 has witnessed two very important dialogues between India and China which promises to foster mutual trust and understanding between the two governments and the two armies. These kinds of dialogues have been going on since last few decades but both sides have not been able to bridge the trust deficit. These talks have not been able to alleviate India’s concerns relating to the real intent of China on the border issue.

The Feb 10-11 talk of the Special Representatives of the Prime Ministers of the two countries was followed by annual Defence Dialogue at the level of Defence Secretaries between India and China on 24 February 2014.

Though the sixth round of Defence and security Dialogue cleared the way for the next round of Hand in Hand joint army exercise to be held in India and the visit later this year of the Defence Minister of China along with the exchange of visits of the DGMO level officers of the two countries, the two sides have not moved beyond cordial and constructive talks as described each time by the two delegations who meet very often in each others capitals.

It is to be seen if incidents of incursions and intrusions by the Chinese PLA on the Indian side of the 4000 kms long LAC do not recur time and again, as a result of the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement signed by both sides last September and the follow up high level talks between the Special Representatives Shiv Shankar Menon and the Chinese State Councilor Yang Jie Qi which was later followed up with the Defence Secretary level Defence and Security dialogue.

Pending issues

Since last three decades, China and India have been engaged in negotiations for the resolution of the border issue but has seen no progress. China has been indulging in dilly dallying attitude and seems to be playing a strategy of continuing to put ointment on the wound of LAC for some pain relief instead of finally dealing with the root cause of the border tension.

Unlike the India-Pakistan border which is witnessing a temporary lull in exchange of fire, the Sino- Indian border is said to be most peaceful. But India is not satisfied with the status quo and wants an early resolution of the boundary issue.  

The latest Chinese proposal during the visit of the Chinese State Councilor Yang Jie Qi to formulate a new code of conduct for dealing with the LAC issue has stunned the Indian strategic observers. The 17th round of border talks though as expected failed to make any progress, the Chinese State Councilor surprised Indian interlocutors with his new  proposal which was till now discussed only in the context of the resolution of the maritime disputes.  

This proposal is more intriguing than the earlier Chinese proposal of Border Defence Cooperation Agreement which was concluded at the Chinese insistence last September in Beijing during the visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Indian observers feel that since both the countries have already concluded several peace and confidence building measures the fresh proposals would not add any new substance in peace and confidence building measures.

That China is not interested in concluding the border negotiations at an early date has been made very clear by the Chinese moves, the Chinese strategists wants to keep India in good humor by coming out with novel ideas to maintain peace and tranquility on the  4000 kms Line of Actual Control.

During the 17th round of border talks held in New Delhi China has decided to continue with the status quo and proposed the Code of Conduct to the pending final resolution of the border row till both find a mutually acceptable solution.

Due to the Chinese intransigence on the very long and inhospitable border, India has to maintain extensive military presence to safeguard its territory. India would definitely be very pleased if the border and territory issue is resolved within a fixed time frame. This would help India withdraw thousands of soldiers from the hilly border areas and reduce its military expenditures.

An early resolution of the border row would be in India’s interest; hence India is engaged with Chinese officials and leaders at various levels. But China is in no hurry to move forward. Though the relations have deepened between both the countries especially in the economic and trade arena, largely to China’s advantage, the continuance of border issues troubles India very much.

Border negotiations

Till date India and China have engaged in border and territorial talks at many levels. Thrice in 1960, eight times in 1980s, 15 times under the JWG forum in the nineties and 17 rounds of border talks at the level of Special Representatives of the Prime Ministers of both the countries. The last agreement in 2005 on Political Parameters and Guiding Principles was the most forward looking and extremely comprehensive, which gave rise to hopes of early resolution of the boundary issue.

But China later backtracked on the issue of taking care of the interests of the settled population while dealing with the territory issue. Indian interlocutors were expecting the Chinese side to recognize the interests of the Arunachal Pradesh and especially the Tawang area.

The agreement for deciding the principle of the boundary settlement raised the expectations that the two sides will easily agree on the identification of the populated area which should be allowed to remain with their country of choice.

On the entire LAC only Tawang area has a settled population and the loyalties of the people of Tawang are well known. Even the Dalai Lama has recognized the control of Tawang over India because of the affinity of local population towards India.

During the second phase of talks the two special representatives are deciding on the framework for resolving the border issue. The framework is proving to be the most ticklish in view of the Chinese claims over Arunachal Pradesh especially Tawang. After the conclusion of the second phase the third phase will entail the demarcation of maps of any framework agreement and delimitation on the ground.

Since the LAC is not demarcated, the soldiers of two sides often transgress on the other side. However, on the excuse of lack of clarity of the LAC on the inhospitable border terrain, the Chinese side take advantage and regularly test the alertness of the Indian soldiers by sending their patrol parties and when they encounter Indian troops they either go back or sometimes insist that the area belongs to them.

The 19 kms incursion and subsequent refusal of the Chinese PLA to go back to their original position in Depsang area of Eastern Ladakh in April 2013  is an example, which causes concerns in Indian security establishment and compels the Indian soldiers to  be on their feet all the time.

The Chinese have applied the concept of code of conduct in relation to their maritime disputes with the ASEAN members. But the experience of the ASEAN members so far has not been very pleasing.

Code of Conduct

This is why any new confidence building proposal in the name of a new Code of Conduct raises the eyebrows in the Indian security establishment. It has been reported that the Code of Conduct aims to reduce the chances of a conflict between the Chinese and Indian soldiers on the undemarcated LAC.

But strategic observers point out the fact that the earlier signed confidence building measures also aims to reduce the possibilities of an altercation on the LAC and maintain peace and tranquility. What the proposed Code of Conduct will bring new element in promoting an incursion free LAC is yet to be ascertained.

But the Chinese proposal probably aims to ensure the good behavior of the troops on both the sides to prevent any fracas.  If this is the intent of the new leadership of China, they should be well advised to speed up the three stage boundary negotiation process by coming out with fresh ideas. Simply injecting new medicines on the LAC for a tension free atmosphere will only prolong the boundary issue which one day may ignite beyond control.

Observers draw attention to the fact that these friendly exchanges, China marking 2014 as a Year of Friendly Exchanges, will not survive the moment a big altercation happens on the border, as witnessed during the Depsang incursion when India threatened indirectly to the Chinese officials about it directly affecting the visit of the Chinese Premier Li Ke Qiang to India.

The joint statement issued after the talks of the two Special Representatives failed to mention the new Chinese proposal of the Code of Conduct, which shows the reservations and the cautious attitude of Indian interlocutors on this proposal.

However, the recent Defence and Security dialogue promises to deepen the relations through high level interactions over the year 2014, which has been described as year of friendly exchanges between the two countries.