Thursday, 31 October 2013
India and China sign border pact
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed a peace pact in Beijing on 23 October, aimed at easing tension along their disputed Himalayan border. The two Asian neighbours have seen tensions resurface this year in the form of incursions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), following decades of disagreement as to the demarcation of the boundary. However, the pact, seen by many as an interim measure, was signed amid comments from Singh that “it will take time to resolve”, stressing that this was not an “easy issue”.
Entitled “Border Defence Co-operation”, this agreement is the fifth such arrangement made between China and India in the last 20 years. It sets out the terms of engagement, committing the armed forces on both sides of the border to “maximum self-restraint” to prevent any unwarranted exchange of fire. Nevertheless, there is also an ambiguous tone to much of the document. Article VI precludes either side from following the other's patrols if they venture into “areas where there is no common understanding of the line of actual control”, essentially giving tacit consent to incursions into neighbouring territory.
The disputed land covers an area of 150,000 km2 along a 4,000 km frontier that has never been explicitly delineated. This is problematic, given that both countries account for around one third of the world's population, with a total GDP of over $10 trillion. Premier Li says their relationship is “the most important bilateral friendship in the world”, which is not necessarily hyperbole. If accidental war were to break out as a result of their rift over this border, it would have untold effect on their respective economic output and could result in significant loss of life. The Sino-Indian War of 1962 saw tens of thousands of casualties from the largely land-based warfare that was waged in harsh, mountainous conditions.
The war was sparked, in part, by China's construction of a strategic highway in the 1950s linking western Tibet with its province of Xinjiang. Eventually the Indian authorities discovered that the road crossed southwards into what it considered to be its territory, based on the Johnson Line, a 19 th century colonial border delineated by the British surveyor, W H Johnson. When Britain eventually withdrew as the colonial power and granted independence to India in 1947, it left behind a myopic legacy of clumsily drawn borders between India and its northern neighbours, with no measures, other than palliative ones, taken to address this issue.
In the last 50 years, the Asian giants have held 16 rounds of talks in an effort to settle their border dispute, almost to no avail. Both sides have pledged to increase bilateral trade to $100 billion by 2015, following a 20% drop in Indian exports to China last year.