The 21st border affairs meeting on Saturday between China and India was concluded in Chengdu, China’s southwestern city. Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement following the meeting, summarizing it as constructive and insightful where “an important consensus has been reached”.
Observers have taken notice of the upbeat tone. Ma Jiali, an India expert and senior researcher at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, commented that the two sides had made headway in the latest meeting.
In 2003, China and India set up the mechanism of holding special representatives’ meetings on boundary issues. On the 2005 meeting, the two countries agreed on a set of political guiding principles for solving the China-India border issue, which was seen as a major development in moving towards resolving disputes between the two sides.
However, since then there have been hiccups in the boundary negotiations. Ma noted that during several meetings, “disputes” seemed to have taken a more prominent spot, which highlighted the significance of the latest one where there was an increased “consensus” on “moving negotiations forward and preserving regional peace and stability”.
Moreover, while the previous statements from the Chinese Foreign Ministry tended to be brief and less elaborative, this year’s has included issues discussed during the meeting and outlined how the two countries can press ahead with the negotiations and avoid border frictions in the future, such as agreeing that troops along the border should stick to the consensus and improve communication mechanisms.
The recent meeting was especially notable given the Donglang crisis that erupted in the Donglang trijunction border area in last June, which saw India’s army crossing the border to stop the Chinese side from constructing roads. Fortunately, after two months’ heightened tensions, the two countries called a halt to the face-off. On August 28, 2017, India announced that they had withdrawn their troops back from the standoff site.
Ma believes that the flare-up of tensions, in retrospect, serves as a warning sign for the two countries, as the narrowly-escaped military battle in the region would have jeopardized regional stability and bilateral relations. After the crisis, pragmatism took over and a gradual warming up of the bilateral relations ensued.
Such signs of resetting ties were nowhere more evident than the Xi-Modi summit that took place in April this year, which saw Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi engaging in one-to-one discussions as they walked by the city’s East Lake.
Moreover, since June 2017 when Modi arrived in China’s eastern city, Xiamen for the BRICS Summit, he has so far visited China three times. Chinese media has been generous in hailing such a big development of the bilateral relations, which is indicative of China’s positive position on the rapprochement.
Apart from maintaining regional peace, strengthening political and economic ties is among other considerations for both sides to mend ties. China is a regional powerhouse while India, boasting a young population of 800 million people, is predicted by some to be the fastest-growing economy in the world in the future. As Ma concluded, forging closer ties would only serve each other’s interests better.
(Cover: Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation from the Red Fort on the 72nd Independence Day, his fifth and final speech before the general elections next year, on August 15, 2018 in New Delhi, India. )