Monday, 10 October 2011

India and China agree to new border mechanism

Asia's two most powerful states have agreed to establish a new institutionalised mechanism to manage their lengthy land border, amid growing disputes over boundaries at sea.

On 6th October India's Defence Minister A.K. Antony told journalists that New Delhi and Beijing were working on setting up a new process involving diplomatic and military agencies from both sides, and that the mechanism would be up and running within around three months.

A new system to resolve border disputes is sorely needed. India regularly accuses Chinese forces of entering its territory, which China denies. The two sides fought a brief but bloody border war in the Himalayas in 1962, and the border between them is still hotly disputed. China claims most of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh in northeastern India, arguing that the McMahon Line which Tibet concluded with the British Empire in 1914 – and which now serves as the de facto border between India and China - was invalid.

The situation along the line of control in India's northeast remains tense. New Delhi has recently announced plans to boost the number of troops in the region by up to 50,000, as well as building airstrips near the border. Beijing has warned that a military build-up would be destabilising for the region, but has been accused of increasing its own presence there. In September, India accused Chinese air and ground forces of violating its territory.

The new proposed mechanism would reinforce the existing arrangements, in which ad hoc meetings of military officials, diplomats or expert groups are organised to discuss any pressing issues. The new arrangement, however, will bring all these groups together in a regular process. The inclusion of diplomatic policymakers is vital for keeping the situation under control and informing the central governments of both states.

It is not clear exactly when the mechanism will come into force but it seems that both sides acknowledge the need to reduce tensions there. Smoothing relations over the 3,500 km land border would be a positive note in the Sino-Indian relationship, currently undergoing tensions over disputed maritime boundaries in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.

India is working closely with southeast Asian states as a counterweight to China, which has alarmed smaller countries with its aggressive claims to sovereignty over the sea and its associated resource bonanza. Meanwhile India has watched with concern as China builds up its economic and military presence in a 'string of pearls' around the Indian Ocean, including Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Pakistan.

Sources: The Diplomat, The Hindu

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