India, China to cut forces along border
Sub-group formed to demarcate LAC
Beijing not to play Pakistani card
It is goodbye to three decades of eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation as India and China signed a watershed agreement on Tuesday committing both countries to mutual troop reduction along the once-troubled border and resolution of their boundary dispute without use of force.
The accord signalled that the two words - peace and tranquility - would dominate the relations between the two countries at least for the next couple of years. Till now, both the sides had merely talked of resolving the boundary dispute through dialogue. But, this is the first substantial step towards resolving it.
The agreement was signed by the minister of state for external affairs, Mr. R.L. Bhatia and the Chinese vice-minister for foreign affairs, Mr. Tang Jiaxuan, in the presence of the two prime ministers, Mr. P.V. Narasimha Rao and Mr. Li Peng, at Fengfeiyuan Hall (Fragrant Hall) at the state guest house.
The two prime ministers later said the agreement would create a ‘favourable atmosphere’ for eventual settlement of the boundary question.
The agreement was hinted at by Indian officials on Monday, though a senior Indian diplomat had cautioned against media speculation, as there could be the proverbial last-minute hitch while dealing with the sensitive Chinese.
This was the first time that India signed a troop reduction agreement with any country and both sides were equally keen on its implementation. A sub-group has been formed to implement the operative provisions of the agreement and would begin work in a few months. The agreement incorporates complex verification mechanism on the lines of similar agreements in Europe.
This would be for the first time that the two sides would be sitting together to actually demarcate the Line of Actual Control (LAC), something that was hanging fire for long.
Both China and India are facing severe resource crunch that was hampering the progress of their respective economic reform programmes, the troop reduction would help both stabilise the defence budgets to a considerable degree.
This agreement was signed along with three other agreements on increasing border trade, environmental cooperation and radio and television cooperation, which has been on the anvil. The agreements will put the two countries on the road to maturity and good neighborliness.
Under the border agreement, the two sides have agreed to maintain peace and tranquillity along the LAC and resolve any differences through peaceful and friendly consultations without resorting to force. Pending a boundary settlement, the two have agreed to respect and observe the LAC and settle any difference over its alignment through experts from both countries.
On troop reduction, the agreement said the extent, depth, timing and nature of the withdrawal would be worked out through mutual consultation. Till then the rival forces will remain along the LAC in conformity with the principle of mutual and equal security.
The agreement also provides for prior intimation of military exercise and measures to ensure that air intrusions do not take place in each other’s territory.
An important feature of the agreement stipulates that the reference to the LAC do not prejudice the respective position of the two countries on the boundary question. India and China will continue their search for a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement of the boundary question.
The agreement gives Mr. Narasimha Rao something tangible to take back home on an issue that has considerable political importance. The Chinese, on the other hand, have tended to down play the boundary question and have been suggesting India since 1979 that the two countries should normalise relations in other areas and thereby create conditions conducive to eventual resolution of the boundary dispute.
The biggest success for India was China’s assurance to Delhi that it would never play the Pakistani card. The Chinese side maintained that their arms export to Pakistan was not aimed at India.
Another point that was appreciated by the Indian side in the context of Kashmir was the Chinese word that they opposed all forms of terrorism, that they were against the break-up of countries and that they did not support issues that threatened territorial integrity.
However, when queried whether this amounted to China accepting Kashmir as an integral part of India, the Chinese foreign secretary refused to answer the question describing it as ‘speculative’.
Similarly, the Chinese sought assurance from the Indian on Tibet. The Indians stated that their Tibet policy remained unchanged since 1954, which was that India considered Tibet to be an autonomous region within China, an articulation that may not entirely please the Dalai Lama and his followers who have been asking the Indian Government to take up their cause with the Chinese Government.
The border trade protocol provides for Shipki Pass in Himachal Pradesh to be an additional route after Lipulekh Pass in Uttar Pradesh was first to be opened up for such trade in 1992. Indian officials said the border trade between Pithorgarh district in India and Pulan County in Tibet had picked up after a slow start and was around Rs. 10 lakh in the month of July alone as compared to Rs. 17 lakh for the whole trading season of July-October last year.
Exports to China include textiles, coffee, rice, barley, dry fruits, vegetables and herbs. Imports include wool products, borax, animal skins, goats and sheep. The success of trade along Lipulekh Pass had raised demand from border residents for expansion of this trade to more areas are expected to be opened up in due course.