Friday, August 7, 2009

China India border talk resumes again. How to resolve the vexing problem?

The two are also expected to talk the language of partnership, highlighted by a burgeoning trade and a common position on climate change and global trade talks. Yet a recent spike in geopolitical tensions as well as muscle flexing along the border, particularly in the Indian north eastern province Arunachal Pradesh. China claims a large part of this province.
Of late, Chinese patrolling of the 3,500-km (2,200-mile) border, particularly along Arunachal Pradesh state, which Beijing claims as its territory, has also been markedly assertive, Indian officials said.

Twelve rounds of talks have been held before... ... ... Yet, traditional mistrust since a bloody 1962 war and sparring in recent months over what New Delhi says is China’s interference in India’s strategic matters could cloud the talks.

Feathers were ruffled two months ago when China objected to a $60 million Asian Development Bank loan for a project in northeast India in territory that is claimed by Beijing.
India, China resume border talks amid rising tension, in the Mint. 7 August 2009

Given the long standing nature of the border dispute between China and India, a historical perspective may help resolve the issue. Here is an analysis by Srinath Raghavan, that tries to break the 28 year log jam on the question of border.

When talks on the dispute were revived in the 1980s, New Delhi stuck to the position of sector-wise negotiations. The assumption was that once China acceded to India’s position in the east, it would politically be easier for the Indian government to make concessions in the west. Domestic politics also mandated that India should secure China’s withdrawal from the 3,000 sq. miles (around 7,770 sq. km) annexed in Ladakh in 1962, as the government could not afford to be seen as acquiescing to the gains of war.

China agreed to this approach, but began emphasizing its claims over Arunachal Pradesh—particularly the Tawang area. Beijing’s calculations were straightforward. If concessions in one sector would not be linked to gains in another, it made sense to adopt a maximalist negotiating position on each sector... ... ...

The negotiations that began in 2003 departed from the previous attempts in important respects. India assented to the idea of a comprehensive settlement, encompassing all the sectors. The parameters of the 2005 talks took into account the positions of both parties and sought to reconcile them. New Delhi needed a Chinese withdrawal by at least 3,000 sq. miles in the west; Beijing sought some concessions in the east. India has repeatedly stated that uprooting settled populations would be unacceptable.

Territorial considerations apart, the Chinese evidently want India to provide tangible reassurance vis-à-vis Tibet. Indeed, China’s hardening stance on Tawang has mirrored its increasing concern about Tibet... ... ...

But the dispute can be resolved if both sides are willing to make compromises. India has space to make concessions in the unpopulated areas in the east; China can relinquish some territory in the west. Similarly, New Delhi can provide robust reassurances on Tibet without having to entirely fulfil Beijing’s desires.

Striking an accord on these lines will take time. Furthermore, selling the agreement in India’s domestic political market is unlikely to be simple. A boundary agreement will require a constitutional amendment, which will have to be approved by a two-thirds majority in both houses of Parliament and by at least half the state legislatures.

Settling Sino-Indian borders, in the Mint. 30 July 2009.

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