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India China Relations – Dramatic Turnaround Post Depsang

Published May 22, 2020
Updated May 22, 2020

In a dramatic transition of relations India and China have come out of the woods of the Depsang incident of transgression by Chinese troops on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) to a highly successful engagement between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during the latter’s visit to New Delhi on 19 and 20 May 2013. The two leaders have addressed a number of bilateral issues in a very amiable manner leading to hope that the two countries may be maturing into responsible players who will lead the global community of the future. This is very much reflected in the expansive Joint Statement of 35 paragraphs that outlines the achievements so far and the forward trajectory of Sino Indian relations. Some of the key issues of strategic and security significance covered in the Joint Statement are highlighted as per succeeding paragraphs.

Mutual acceptance of role in international polity was a major take away. Significantly the Joint Statement highlighted the role of the two countries in global polity thus, “The two sides welcomed each other’s peaceful development and regard it as a mutually reinforcing process. There is enough space in the world for the development of India and China, and the world needs the common development of both countries. As the two largest developing countries in the world, the relationship between India and China transcends bilateral scope and has acquired regional, global and strategic significance. Both countries view each other as partners for mutual benefit and not as rivals or competitors”.

In a similar vein China accepted a larger role for India in the UN, thus, “China attaches great importance to India’s status in international affairs as a large developing country, understands and supports India’s aspiration to play a greater role in the United Nations including in the Security Council”. This is no doubt short of acceptance of India’s claims to permanent membership of the UN Security Council.

Constraining support by India to Tibetan separatist activity the joint statement stated, “The two sides will not allow their territories to be used for activities against the other”.  This aspect was further clarified by Ambassador Jai Shanker during the Press Conference who confirmed in response to a question that the Chinese side had taken up the issue of activities of Tibetan refugees, and the Dalai Lama in India, while India confirmed that no political activities were carried out by these.  

Commitments to promoting multilateral arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation processes and complete prohibition and thorough destruction of all nuclear weapons and opposition to the weaponization of and an arms race in outer space was reaffirmed in the joint statement.

Cooperation in Maritime Security has been highlighted in the fields of search and rescue at sea, oceanic scientific research and environment protection, tackling increasingly outstanding non-traditional security threats, and strengthen cooperation in naval escort missions in the Gulf of Aden and waters off the coast of Somalia, earnestly safeguarding security of international sea-lanes and freedom of navigation. India China and Japan are carrying out joint patrolling off the Somalia coast for anti piracy.

A commitment has been made to enhanced interaction in the military field which is seen to be conducive to mutual trust and confidence and next round of joint training exercises are proposed to be held later this year while exchanges between the Army, Navy and Air Force of the two countries are to be enhanced. This may be further consolidated during the visit of the Defence Minister, Mr A K Antony to China in the coming months.

On the boundary issue faith is being reposed in the Special Representatives of the two countries on the Boundary Question to push forward the process of negotiations and seek a framework for a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement in accordance with the Agreement on Political Parameters and Guiding Principles. A commitment to work together to maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas in line with the previous agreements is also underlined while satisfaction has been expressed with the work done by the India – China Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on Border Affairs. NSA Mr. Menon would be going to China as Special Representative to meet his counterpart to continue with the talks.

On the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA), the talks are presently in an initial stage with the Chinese having given the draft to India on the 4th of March and India presenting its own draft on the 10th May immediately after the stand off in Depsang was over. Thus detailed discussions are likely to ensue before a substantial agreement is evolved.

On the sharing of information on river waters, China will provide information of water level, discharge and rainfall twice a day from June 1st to October 15th each year in respect of three hydrological stations on the mainstream Brahmaputra river. Ambassador Jai Shanker indicated that the Chinese response to Indian concerns was sympathetic. “I think they recognize that we have concerns. They pointed out that they were responsible, that they would not do something which would damage our interests. And essentially what we agreed upon was that we would strengthen our cooperation based on our existing mechanism and now we have to work further on that,” he stated at the news conference.

India has ensured that the main challenges faced including the boundary issue and the Depsang incident as well as river water sharing are not pushed to the background and have been identified as the core issues of national interest. By quickly re-establishing relations a new phase of understanding between the two countries with the top leadership on board has emerged. At the same time the antagonists on both sides in India and China are underlying that the Prime Minister in China has limited clout on strategic affairs with his role more focused on the economy.