China, India agree to improve military communication for border peace
Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi stress the need to work together for mutual trust during Indian prime minister’s ice-breaking trip to China
China and India on Saturday pledged to improve military communication to avoid a repeat of last year’s stand-off along their 3,500km shared border, as the two sides wrapped up talks aimed at getting their relationship back on track.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping both stressed that the two nations should work to deepen mutual trust in a series of informal but highly choreographed talks in the central Chinese city of Wuhan over the past two days.
The leaders of the world’s two most populous countries also agreed to work together for an open global economy and support a multilateral trading system – a veiled reference to planned trade actions by the United States, state-run Xinhua reported.
They also highlighted communication between the two sides.
“The China-India relationship should be a stable and developing one, with mutual trust as the foundation,” Xi was quoted as saying by Xinhua. “In the next step, the two countries should make a comprehensive plan for cooperation and further enhance strategic communication [to enable] timely negotiation on major issues.”
The leaders also agreed to “properly handle and manage disputes” and to “fair settlement” of their border disputes, Xinhua reported.
Indian foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale said the two sides had pledged to improve communication between their militaries to maintain peace at the border, and that they had the wisdom to handle their differences peacefully through talks.
Beijing and New Delhi have tried to tackle their border issues through various mechanisms and dialogues since the two sides fought a brief but bloody war in 1962, but little progress has been made and tensions have continued to simmer.
That includes a border defence cooperation agreement signed in 2013 aimed at maintaining peace along the Line of Actual Control, which was established in 1993 – though the two sides have different definitions of it.
Tensions escalated during a two-month military stand-off along a contested part of the border in the Himalayas last year, which became the worst crisis between the two sides since they went to war.
The confrontation escalated after China started building a road at the Doklam plateau, which is claimed by India’s ally Bhutan. The two sides agreed to pull back their troops only days before Modi was due to visit China for an emerging markets summit in September.
Indian officials have said that transparency and communication, especially among the military, must be improved to ease tensions between the two sides.
“The Doklam [stand-off] suggests no confidence-building measures were effective,” said Srikanth Kondapalli, a China affairs expert at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
“[The existing measures] prevented conflicts but no trust exists between the two countries.”
It also became apparent during the Doklam stand-off that communication channels between the two militaries were lacking, according to Du Youkang, director of the Centre for South Asian Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.
“The two militaries have low-level and mid-level hotline channels for maintaining border peace,” Du said. “But Doklam showed that these communication channels are simply not effective in a crisis ... that’s why high-level military communication is needed.”
Modi’s ice-breaking trip was the latest attempt in recent weeks at rapprochement by the two sides and paves the way for an official visit by the Indian leader to the coastal city of Qingdao in June for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit.
It was the first time Xi has hosted an Indian prime minister outside Beijing. Modi began his 24-hour trip in Wuhan, in the middle reaches of the Yangtze River, on Friday afternoon, with the two leaders touring a museum before Xi hosted a dinner for his Indian counterpart.
The talks were unusual, with the two leaders taking a boat trip around the scenic East Lake on Saturday morning before going for a walk along the lake with just their interpreters in tow.
Hu Zhiyong, a research fellow at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of International Relations, said the two leaders wanted to improve relations after the Doklam crisis.
“Both sides want to take the opportunity of the SCO summit to create a good atmosphere and give bilateral ties a boost after they became so frosty following the Doklam stand-off,” Hu said. “But there is still deep distrust between the two countries and they’ve got a long way to go.”
Additional reporting by Reuters