China-India relations

China and India agree to boost trade and lower the temperature on shared border

  • Beijing looks to improve relations with its neighbours ahead of G20 talks between Xi Jinping and Donald Trump
PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 November, 2018, 9:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 26 November, 2018, 10:34pm

China and India have vowed to boost their border trade and keep their troops in restraint to minimise the risk of conflicts, in Beijing’s latest move to consolidate ties with its neighbours amid rising tensions with the United States.

A statement released by the two sides following their border meeting in Chengdu, in the southwestern province of Sichuan, over the weekend said they had reached “important consensus” on disputes, and are continuing to build trust on the border.

The meeting between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval came ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s meeting with US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the upcoming G20 summit, from November 30 to December 1.

Xi and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are also expected to meet on the G20 sidelines.

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China and India have had in-depth communications on “measures to increase trust, manage disputes and working on a framework of solution of the border issues, and have reached important consensus,” a statement after the Wang-Doval meeting said.

Before a settlement that is “fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable” being worked out, both sides should implement the trust building measures at all levels, including their frontline forces, and “jointly maintain peace and tranquillity on the border region”.

Wang and Doval also agreed to expand border trade and people exchanges.

China and India share a border of about 2,000km with contested claims over several areas totalling 125,000km.

Last year, Chinese and Indian militaries were locked in the worst stand-off since their border war in 1962 on the Doklam plateau, a tri-junction area which includes Bhutan. They disengaged after 73 days.

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“Distrust probably has been the biggest problem between China and India,” said Wang Dehua, a South Asian expert at the Shanghai Municipal Centre for International Studies.

In addition to border disputes, India is sceptical about China’s Belt and Road Initiatives, with concerns that China’s cooperation with Pakistan and South Asian countries could affect India’s geopolitical interests, while China is worried India may join the US Indo-Pacific strategy to contain China, according to Wang.

While the trade war with the US is ongoing, China is trying to maintain good relationships with all its neighbours, as well as with western countries, while acting as a responsible player in the international order, in contrast to the Trump administration’s frequent quitting from international treaties and organisations, he said.

China and India also held an annual Defence and Security Dialogue in Beijing on November 13.

China and Vietnam have also had long lasting conflicts on their border from 1979-1990. The two countries have repaired ties and signed a land demarcation treaty, but still have overlapping claims and constant disputes in the South China Sea.

China and Vietnam also held high-level border meeting last week, attended by two defence ministers, China’s Wei Fenghe and Vietnam’s Ngo Xuan Lich. The two militaries also held joint patrol and disaster rescue exercises.

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Beijing-based military expert Zhou Chenming said China needs more stable relations with its neighbours while it is still locked in a series of confrontations with Washington.

“China will be facing a lot of pressure at the negotiating table with Trump if tensions with its neighbours are rising,” he said.

“India is the only nation that has a land dispute with China, and China has to calm down its tensions with India”.

Additional reporting by Minnie Chan