China-India pact seeks to assure peace along disputed border

Accord signed by Li and Singh in Beijing sets out steps to avoid conflict in long-running row

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 October, 2013, 2:29pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 October, 2013, 1:50pm

China and India signed a defence co-operation accord yesterday to avert potential stand-offs in their disputed border areas as they vowed not to let the row overshadow ties.

Although the agreement, signed after a meeting in Beijing between Premier Li Keqiang, and his Indian counterpart, Dr Manmohan Singh, provides no long-term solution to the decades-old deadlock, it serves as a pragmatic protocol to prevent armed conflict between the two Asian giants.

Video: China, India sign border defence agreement

The agreement stipulates that both sides "shall not follow or tail patrols of the other side" along the disputed border. If they find themselves in a doubtful situation, they have the right to seek clarification.

Neither side should "use force or threaten to use force against the other" if their troops come face-to-face, according to the accord. It also stipulates that they treat each other with courtesy.

Beijing and New Delhi also agreed to boost defence communication at five levels, starting with meetings of border personnel at designated crossing points and extending to periodic ministry-level meetings. They also might consider establishing a hotline between their militaries.

"I am sure it will help to maintain peace, tranquillity and stability in our border areas," Li said at a press briefing with Singh.

Singh said "peace and tranquillity on our borders must remain the foundation for growth in the Sino-Indian relationship".

Relations between the two nations have been overshadowed by the border dispute that saw them fight a brief war in 1962. The latest tensions came during a three-week stand-off in April, when India said Chinese troops had camped in its territory in Ladakh.

Observers say yesterday's agreement provides concrete measures to pre-empt disputes.

"The clause that soldiers should not follow the other side can be effective," said Zhao Gancheng , director of South Asia studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies. "Conflicts can be prevented if soldiers do not see their counterparts."

Zorawar Daulet Singh, a research fellow at New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Alternatives, said the communication arrangements could defuse a crisis.

"There are points of interaction to get your message across, and so chances of miscommunication can be minimised in that sense," he said.

Rup Narayan Das, a senior fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis in New Delhi, said the agreement was much needed, as it was unlikely the dispute would be settled in the near term.

"The border issue is too complicated and involves historical facts, legal facts, and the sentiments of people on both sides," he said. "But the fact that they have been able to maintain a peaceful border should be seen as a big achievement."

Li and Singh signed eight other agreements concerning co-operation on trans-border rivers and transport networks. Li called on New Delhi to set up industrial parks for Chinese investment, while Singh urged Beijing to address trade imbalances.

President Xi Jinping said after a meeting with Singh that both nations should properly manage disputes and nurture ties. "Both nations need a stable external environment, and both have to take care of the concerns of each other," he said.