China, India Sign Border Cooperation Agreement

By Louise Watt 24 October 2013

BEIJING — China and India sounded a new optimistic tone in their relationship Wednesday as they signed an agreement to boost meetings between their militaries to avoid any repeat of this year’s tense standoff along their disputed Himalayan border.

The accord followed a meeting in Beijing between Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who also had trade ties on the agenda as India seeks to gain greater access to Chinese markets and readjust a trade balance tilted heavily toward China.

The two sides agreed to boost communication about border maneuvers, hold periodic meetings at designated crossing points, and have patrols refrain from any provocations. They agreed that patrols should not follow or “tail” patrols of the other side in contested areas.

“I am sure it will help to maintain peace, tranquility and stability in our border areas,” Li said of the accord.

Li, who said the meeting injected “new vitality” into China-India relations, said the two sides also agreed to hold joint counterterrorism training in southwest China at an early date, strengthen cooperation in international and regional affairs, and work together to tackle terrorism.

Another accord signed by the countries enables a Chinese power equipment service center in India, and Li said China stood ready to help India with railway construction. The two sides also are exploring a trade corridor, said Singh, who expressed concern about the countries’ “unsustainable trade balance.”

India ran a US$39 billion trade deficit with China over the last fiscal year. With growing economies and a combined population of 2.5 billion, the two neighbors have set a target of $100 billion in bilateral trade by 2015, up from $61.5 billion last year.

“The huge gap between us and them in terms of overall material power is massive. It creates a lot of anxieties,” said Sreeram Chaulia, an international affairs expert at Jindal School of International Affairs in New Delhi.

“One way to address it would be to increase Chinese investment in India,” he said.

But he added, “In India, we are wary of Chinese investment, particularly in sectors like telecommunications or critical infrastructure. There is this fear that one day China is going to rule us.”

The two leaders played up positive aspects of their meeting, with Singh saying they had “candid and constructive discussions” on regional and global issues.

“This is one of the promising developments in our relationship,” Singh said.

Relations between China and India are overshadowed by a decades-old border dispute over which they fought a brief but bloody war in 1962. More than a dozen rounds of talks have failed to resolve the issue, and the two sides had a three-week standoff at their frontier earlier this year.

India said that Chinese soldiers launched incursions several kilometers across the Line of Actual Control at the Himalayan frontier between the sides in May, though China denied setting foot anywhere but on Chinese territory.

On Tuesday, India decorated eight members of the paramilitary Indo-Tibetan Border Police for their roles in the standoff. The force is responsible for guarding most of the roughly 4,000-kilometer (2,500-mile) border with China, most of it running over snowy mountain ranges.

China claims around 90,000 square kilometers (35,000 square miles) of land in India’s northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, while India says China is occupying 38,000 square kilometers (15,000 square miles) of territory on the Aksai Chin plateau in the western Himalayas.

They also face other tensions. China is a longtime ally and weapons supplier to Pakistan, India’s bitter rival, and has been building strong ties with Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, feeding Indian fears of encirclement. China, meanwhile, is wary of India’s growing ties with the United States.

Ashwin Kaja, a lawyer leading an initiative to establish a China-India institute at Beijing’s Renmin University and Jindal University in Sonipat, India, said Wednesday’s agreements and statements signaled a more positive tone in China-India relations.

“In the last few years the relationship between the two countries has run into some turbulent times,” he said, adding that measures to “start rebuilding trust and cooperation are very important.”