By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th Oct 13
With China wanting to signal “a steady, mature relationship” with India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will benefit from unusual warmth during his visit to Beijing on Oct 22. Government sources in New Delhi said today that President Xi Jinping will break with protocol by hosting a meal for the PM, in addition to the meeting with Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang.
The sources say that the two sides are working to finalise a new Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA), which will lay down additional safeguards to ensure peace on the border. The BDCA will be an “incremental addition” to the border management protocols that began with the 1993 Peace and Tranquillity Agreement. This was progressively solidified through the 1996 agreement on Confidence-Building Measures on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), and a set of mutually agreed Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that military patrols follow when they come into contact in disputed areas.
These protocols have ensured peace on the LAC for two decades, even though both sides patrol disputed areas that they claim. The two major incidents since 1993 --- the Chinese intrusion in 2008 at Finger in Sikkim, and in Depsang, near Daulat Beg Oldi earlier this year --- were resolved through discussions.
Sources say that the BDCA includes measures like: a hotline between military commanders; a “no-tailing” clause that prohibits a patrol from following another from the opposing side after they disengage according to the 2005 SOP. In addition, the BDCA nominates additional points for border personnel meetings (BPMs) in all three sectors of the LAC --- Ladakh (western sector); Uttarakhand (central sector); and Sikkim-Arunachal (eastern sector).
Currently, BPMs take place only at Chushul (Ladakh); Nathu La (Sikkim) and Bum La (Arunachal Pradesh). Now meetings could be held at Kibithu-Damai (Walong sector, Arunachal Pradesh), and Lipulekh La – Qiang La (Uttarakhand).
“The BDCA will take the earlier protocols to the next level. It is important that we establish direct contact between our army and the PLA (People’s Liberation Army),” says a senior government official.
New Delhi takes pains to emphasise that, notwithstanding Indian public outrage at the Depsang instrusion in April/May, Chinese patrol intrusions have actually reduced this year.
The Sino-Indian border issue has also been discussed at the political level in 16 rounds of talks between nominated Special Representatives of both countries, a dialogue track that was instituted during Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to China in 2003. The current representatives --- National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, and State Councillor Yang Jiechi --- met in Beijing in June.
Today, a government official indicated that gradual progress is being made in the Special Representatives dialogue. “The two sides have made some progress towards a ‘Framework Agreement’ though there is more to do,” he said.
The Special Representatives dialogue is directed towards reaching a territorial settlement through a three-step process. The first step, an agreement on “Guiding Principles” for a settlement, was concluded in April 2005. The second step envisages an “Agreed Framework” for a settlement. Once this is agreed, the final step will involve the actual delineation of an agreed Sino-Indian border.