Even as tensions grow between Asia’s two giant rivals over resources in the South China Sea, India and China still appear to be open to constructive steps to help ease the potential for conflict.
Reports suggest that the two neighbours, who share a tense 3,500 kilometre border, are set to adopt a new institutionalized mechanism for more effective border management in the face of repeated incursions into Indian territory by China, and subsequent Indian responses.
Speaking in response to a question on Chinese border incursions, Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony told reporters that his government had decided to set up a mechanism involving all stakeholders, including paramilitary forces, the military and the foreign ministry.
‘The mechanism will be in place within a few months,’ he said. ‘The ministry of external affairs is coordinating it.’
The proposed mechanism, which will monitor the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that represents the unsettled border between the two countries, promises to improve on existing arrangements as it will involve both countries’ foreign ministries. The two sides are said to have been in touch since early this year to discuss the new arrangements, and there are strong indications that it will be in place by the end of the year.
Analysts say that the proposed mechanism will be more effective than the existing flag meeting arrangements between military personnel and expert groups as it will allow diplomats to be involved on the ground and calling the shots, although the military and intelligence agencies will still have some input. The plan has the backing of policymakers at the highest levels in both countries and was raised by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao on the margins of the BRICs summit in Sanya in April.
The move comes as India has looked to respond to what it sees as Chinese provocations in its own backyard by stepping up its engagement with countries around China. The latest flare-up came late last month, with China seeming to warn an Indian firm not to engage in a joint gas and oil exploration project in the South China Sea with Vietnam.
India has for some time been nurturing ties with Vietnam, a reality that will likely be seen as a challenge in Beijing in an area of particular strategic interest to China. India, for its part, has long feared that China is engaged in a String of Pearls strategy of encirclement in the Indian Ocean region, and it’s perhaps with this in mind that it has been pursuing its two decade-long ‘Look East’ policy with renewed vigour in recent months.