India and China took a major confidence building step on Tuesday, setting up an institutionalized border mechanism that allows for real time contact between the two countries’ foreign offices in the event of a border intrusion by either side.
The Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs is the first major bilateral document signed in two decades by the two Asian giants, who fought a war in 1962 and who since then have regularly complained about incursions into each other’s territory by the other.
The move is likely to be welcomed in both Beijing and New Delhi, and underscores the two sides’ determination to overcome tensions and focus on the fast growing trade between the two neighbors. Bilateral trade between the two countries has soared from about $3 billion in 2003 to more than $60 billion in 2010.
The Working Mechanism was signed in duplicate in Hindi, Chinese and English by officials in the presence of Special Representatives Shivshankar Menon and Dai Bingguo in New Delhi and marked the culmination of 15 rounds of Special Representatives-level talks on the boundary dispute. The mechanism will be co-chaired by senior officials of the two countries’ foreign offices and will also include other diplomatic and military officials.
However, the two sides also made clear that while the Working Mechanism will undertake other mutually agreed upon tasks, it won’t discuss resolution of the boundary dispute or affect the Special Representatives Mechanism. Instead, it will tackle developments that may arise in the border areas that have the potential to disturbing the “tranquility” of border areas. The Mechanism will also entail more frequent exchanges between the military establishments of the two sides, and will meet once or twice every year.
“The discussions were wide ranging, productive, forward looking and marked by a commonality of views on many issues,” according to a press release from India’s External Affairs Ministry. “Making a positive appraisal of the current state of bilateral relations, the Special Representatives noted the importance of regular high-level exchanges and strengthened cooperation across different areas between the two countries. [They] agreed that there was scope for greater coordination on regional and global issues. They agreed that the next round of special representative talks will be held in China.”
The border mechanism is seen as taking bilateral engagement a step forward from earlier notable agreements such as the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility Along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas (signed September 7, 1993) and Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field Along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas (signed November 29, 1996).
Tied to the discussions, Dai penned a special article for The Hindu published on the morning of his talks with Menon in which he dismissed the popular theory that China is planning an attack on India, instead arguing that the two countries are on the brink of a “golden period” in relations.
“Our Indian friends may have confidence in China's tremendous sentiment of friendship towards India. While working hard to develop itself, China is fully committed to developing long-term friendship and cooperation with India,” Dai wrote. “It is our genuine hope that India will enjoy prosperity and its people, happiness. There does not exist such a thing as China's attempt to ‘attack India’ or ‘suppress India’s development.’”