Event ReportsPublished on May 15, 2015
The Chinese understanding about the border has changed many times and while a swap agreement would be a feasible solution to the issue, the Chinese have asked for more concessions on the East, says Dr. Manoj Joshi
The Modi-Xi Summit: Addressing Core Issues

Two days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi began his maiden trip of China after he took charge in Delhi, ORF organised a conference on the Modi-Xi Summit and its likely agenda. The conference on May 12 was attended by experts, scholars, academics and media persons.

The conference started with a presentation on "Border issues and maintaining Peace and Tranquility along the LAC" by Dr Manoj Joshi, Distinguished Fellow, ORF. He outlined five key issues that are likely to be discussed during the summit: (1) Water dispute (2) Peace and tranquility (3) Bilateral trade and economic cooperation, the Tibetan issue (4) Cooperation in multilateral fora - IMF, BRICS, WTO and (5) Third country issues - Pakistan, Afghanistan.

Focusing on the India-China border issue, Dr Joshi observed that since 1954, we are have been seeing the changing Chinese goalposts with regard to borders in the West where cases of incursions at Chumur and Depsang took place in 2014 and 2013 respectively. He pointed out that India had rejected the swap offer made by China’s former PM Zhou Enlai in 1960 asking India to recognise China’s control of Aksai Chin in the west as a quid pro quo for China’s recognition of the McMahon line. The 1962 war had further broken down the relations between India and China and it slowly began to improve after the then PM Rajiv Gandhi, visited China in December 1988. While the border issues remained unsolved even then, what emerged between1981-1988 were a series of eight official discussions on the border issues. At this time, the India-China Joint Working Group (JWG) was also established to resolve the boundary dispute. A major agreement called the "Agreement on Maintaining Peace and Stability in the Region in the Vicinity of the Actual Control Line" was signed in 1993. The agreement stipulated that the two sides should seek solutions to border disputes through peaceful means, not use force and strictly respect and obey the actual control line. The Border Defence Cooperation Agreement signed in 2013 was the descendant of the 1993 agreement.

In 2005 when the then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was in Delhi, both sides accepted the fact that border issues would be solved through political bargaining over the conventional method of presenting maps and documents to prove claims. This led to the key agreement on "political parameters and guiding principles for settlement of the boundary dispute". The Special Representatives mechanism for boundary talks established in 2003 has also made significant headway with 18 rounds of talks and renewed hope towards solving the boundary issues. Now in the 18th round of talks which has reached a "critical stage", Mr. Yang Jiechi, State Councillor and Special Representative from Chinese side has sounded a positive note on the boundary issue. One also sees the changing position of the Chinese when President Xi Jinping urged that the special representatives should work towards a "final settlement", a view sounded by Sushma Swaraj calling for an early and out of box settlement. For the first time, official statements on both sides seem to advocate a final settlement.

According to Dr Joshi, the Chinese understanding about the border has changed many times and while a swap agreement would be a feasible solution to the issue, the Chinese have asked for more concessions on the East. While in 2005 there still appeared a probable solution in the form of a swap, since 2008 there has again been a decline in the relationship between both countries.

The discussion that followed the presentation had many interesting questions and observations. One participant wondered what incentive does either country have to give concessions on the border issue given that China today is becoming more and more assertive. Mr. Joshi replied that while in the 80s and 90s, the main aim was to develop relations while keeping away these border issues for the time being, the current leadership of both countries has given high priority to solve them given the strategic mistrust which has guided the relations for long and more so after the Depsang and Chumur incidents. The perception is that unsettled borders are not conducive for normal relations and that the focus should be on a fast and peaceful settlement. While the Chinese policy is to contain India through relations with Pakistan ,Chinese strategists also speculate that if they push India further, India would align with the USA and Japan in the Indian Ocean to counter China. The Indian consideration has been that since China has outpaced us in the economic arena and can’t be overtaken, the only way to deal with power is through traditional balance of power while also realizing that India cannot miss out on opportunities provided by China’ economic route and other initiatives like AIIB, the New Development Bank. On whether mention of PoK ceded territory would feature in the Modi visit, he replied that India has serious concerns with regards to J&K as we have claims to it and so would raise these issues.

In the second session on "Economic and Trade Issues", the speaker, Mr.Siddharth Varadarajan, took off from the discussion in the first session by citing that while the border issue was an impediment for establishing normal relations between India and China, post the 1980s both countries actively resolved not to allow border issues to affect trade relationship. This has generated positive externalities, firstly in the expansion of trade to 70bn $ (increase to 100bn$ by 2015) but also led to positive effect on the border issue with regards to the Special Representative talks which the speaker contended is due to a positive economic environment between the two. While maintaining a positive note on the trade scenario, Mr. Varadarajan pointed out that the issue of water is worrisome as China is an upper riparian State and looking at their development strategy, there are chokepoints in terms of food, water and energy resources. This means that there is an ever increasing need for water resources. Countries like India and Bangladesh which fall in the lower riparian region are affected by the excessive consumption of water and these issues need to be jointly resolved. In an increasingly globalized world, while trade with China is becoming increasingly important, a widening trade deficit with China has led to whining and comparison that trade between Pakistan and China has been strong .There is an urgent need to analyze the root cause of these deficiencies. While non-tariff barriers are a problem ,the other issues that also need to be kept in mind are India’s capacity to export finished goods and infrastructure issues in India.

The speaker also contended that with the One Belt One Route (OBOR) initiative and development of AIIB, India need to actively find out how it can benefit from this emerging architecture. Also, in the technology sector, both India and China have been pursuing a renewable energy path and there exists great opportunity for cooperation. The PM’s visit is significant as India has the ability to double down its partnership with USA and increase it with China.

Discussion on the economic and trade issues were also geared in the context of large Indian and Chinese presence in African region and whether there is scope to work together on projects in this region. The speaker acknowledged that there have been mixed experiences in collaboration in the African region. In South Sudan and Syria where both countries have partnered, the experience has not been quite successful. On the question of Xi’s recent visit to Pakistan promising $46bn investment, the speaker emphasised that while greater friendship between China and Pakistan needs to be accepted, one should also note that Chinese love to make sweeping statements and such investments could be counted as real only when actual projects come up.

In the third and final session titled "Indian Ocean, South China Sea and the Belt Road Initiative", Dr Vijay Sakhuja (Director, National Maritime Foundation) asked why everyone is surprised with Chinese forays in the Indian Ocean as this was waiting to happen. While the Indian discourse on the Indian Ocean during the 1990s was of strategic encirclement, the USA gave it a new coinage of String of Pearls theory. This decade has a new coinage i.e. that of maritime silk road. By calling it a road although it is a sea route, the speaker contended that an imagery of the old maritime silk route is being invoked. According to Dr. Sakhuja, China is going to be here for the long haul and we need to know how to manage this and create a cooperative environment.

With regard to the South China Sea, a reclamation of these waters has been happening around with all countries trying to stake claim to the waters. China today is trying to stake claim to these islands using the discourse of "public goods at sea". This would mean building lighthouses, tourism, rescue and conducting search operations. On the OBOR initiative, the speaker explained that the first reaction of anybody is of suspicion and that there is a need to manage the perception to make it right. The question one needs to ask is whether India has opportunity to participate in this initiative and how India can take advantage of this opportunity. For example, can India participate in exploration of marine economy and build partnerships in other areas for joint exploration?

An interesting question and answer session followed in which there were discussions on the OBOR initiative. One of the participants felt that this initiative seems to indicate a Chinese centered vision of Asia and projects a new vision of Asia. While India has also started talks on its indigenous ’Mausam’ initiative, projecting an Indian centric vision of Asia, it remains to be seen whether the PM during his visit is able to project the Indian vision. Another interesting observation was whether the OBOR is really driven by a workable vision or is just another grand strategy. Dr.Sakhuja answered that the project is still shaping up and we do not have all the answers about how this would work out.

(This report is prepared by Mahalakshmi Ganapathy, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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