Thursday, February 7, 2013

Time to bridge Sino-Indian border differences
By Namrata Goswami and Jenee Sharon

The Sino-Indian border dispute in India’s eastern sector is one of the most intractable land conflicts. The quarrel has entangled China and India since 1949, and resulted in the 1962 border war which saw India defeated at the hands of China. Both countries have entered negotiations, but "incompatibilities" are constantly stalling the process.

There are three major obstacles.
Firstly, India wants to recognize the McMahon line, a line agreed to by Britain and Tibet as part of the Simla Accord signed in 1914, as the permanent border between China and India. However, China views the McMahon line as a legacy of British imperialism, and hence unacceptable to China.

The underlying assumption behind China’s reluctance to accept the McMahon line is that if China recognizes that line, that would automatically signify that China recognizes the 1914 accord signed by Tibet as an independent country. This is a no-go area for China.
Secondly, China has made aggressive territorial claims to over 90, 000 square kms of territory in India's eastern sector resulting in overt military postures by both sides.

Finally, there is the presence of the Tibetan government-in-exile and the Dalai Lama in India, which adds fuel to Chinese suspicions that India must be harboring some future designs for an independent Tibet.

China and India set up a "Special Representatives" mechanism in 2003 to carry forward the border talks, resulting in a framework agreement in 2005 on the guiding principles for negotiations. However, the "incompatibilities" have created obstacles and the Special Representative talks have been characterized as an impasse in recent years. Despite 50 rounds of such negotiations and three major bilateral agreements following their 1962 clash, China and India's border dispute seems no nearer resolution.

Assessments of the formal talks suggest both parties lack the incentive to arrive at a negotiated solution. While there is limited progress, both parties seem interested in maintaining the status quo. This does not augur well for future Sino-Indian relations as the border dispute has the potential to thwart greater broader bilateral cooperation

The framework of the talks therefore needs a rethink. The issue of who negotiates is important and this aspect has slowed progress in the past. Before the Special Representatives were appointed in 2003, many talks took place with lower-level officials on both sides who did not have the authority to make the decisions necessary to arrive at a sensible agreement. It is critical that both China and India select lead negotiators with advanced knowledge of the situation, the ability to manage complex issues, the authority to make political decisions, and the ability to creatively identify the decisions that are necessary to create optimal outcomes for both parties.

The Sino-Indian negotiations are currently at a stalemate, as both parties have stuck hard to their positions rather than explore common interests. Consequently, Sino-Indian negotiators must first of all, not only understand their own party's interests, but also have a good sense of the other side's stance.

An understanding of each other's values and culture is important. For instance, social stability is of great importance to China; thus India should seek to understand the implications this has on the dispute over Arunachal Pradesh, particularly the Tibet and Tawang issues. In the same vein, China should seek to understand why India has staked its claim over Arunachal Pradesh and the significance of this issue from an Indian perspective.

Internationally, China sees itself as acting in reaction to being victimized, with its posturing a way of asserting itself so as to maintain claim over the border areas. India must appreciate how China might view India's support for the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile in India within the larger perspective of suspected "containment" theories. A recent upsurge in US-India strategic relations adds further fuel to such feelings of victimhood by China.

An analysis of the 2005 Sino-Indian framework agreement illustrates some of the challenges both parties are facing in reaching a settlement to the dispute. While the document employs lofty, diplomatic language, the agreement itself is rather vague and allows for different interpretations. For example, Article 4 of the guiding principles states that both parties should "give due consideration to each other's strategic and reasonable interests," but this is vague and subjective to each party's interpretation.

It is also troubling that China has not observed Article 9, which states that the "two sides should strictly respect and observe the line of actual control and work together to maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas". While there are certainly areas of the border which are not clearly delineated, China's military has conducted incursions into Indian territory in recent years especially in the Ladakh sector.

These varying interpretations and actions that do not support diplomatic language have prolonged the negotiations. Hard bargaining alone will not resolve these issues. Negotiators must concentrate on determining preferences for alternative outcomes to identify areas of compromise and create outcomes with the best joint gains.

The physical location of the negotiations is another key factor that has been overlooked in the past. Negotiation expert Daniel Druckman suggests in his piece "Negotiating in the International Context," that talks should be held at a comfortable, peripheral location rather than a central location within the conflict zone. This is key for the Special Representative talks, which typically take place in either China or India.

Often times, the physical location has created issues exposing the aggressive nature of both parties. For instance, Special Representative Talks originally scheduled for November 2011 in New Delhi were likely postponed because China objected to the Dalai Lama addressing a Buddhist Conference in New Delhi at roughly the same time.

While some have argued that it is a "sign of determination" that talks have persevered despite these issues, one can also argue that while talks are still occurring, they are largely diplomatic shows and these provocations serve to disrupt and prolong the progress - though this may be a tactic in itself.

Actions like this undermine any attempt for meaningful dialogue, reduce any sense of urgency, and counteract efforts to seriously build a trusting, collaborative relationship between the two nations.
Mistrust is perhaps another significant obstacle to both parties' development of a joint solution. A major issue in the last seven years is that while China and India have engaged in Special Representative talks, they concurrently make assertive moves that intensify the atmosphere of mistrust and jeopardize trust-building dialogue.

In the last five years, while simultaneously participating in the talks, the Chinese have been increasingly making more incursions into disputed territory to assert their claim. In November 2012, China issued passports displaying Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin as Chinese territory - just a week before the scheduled Special Representative talks.

In an almost immediate response, India stamped visas with revised maps indicating the disputed territories as theirs. Such escalations damage trust-building exercises and hinder progress. The Sino-Indian media also contributes to seed mistrust in portraying the aggressive nature of both parties. It is unlikely that a lasting negotiated settlement will be reached without seriously engaging to building trust and as much as China and India attempt to separate the border issue from their bilateral relationship, the two are inexplicably linked.
One of the most viable ways to address the China-India border negotiations is through a problem solving approach. This is crucial in the China-India negotiations because China's behavior outside of the negotiations clearly has an impact on the progress of reaching a settlement on the border issues.

Each time the People's Liberation Army (PLA) aggressively moves into perceived Indian territory, this breeds mistrust between the parties, preventing them from understanding each others interests beyond their asserted positions.

Rather than continuing to make escalatory territorial claims, both parties need to have an honest dialogue about their shared future. However, this approach can only be applied if both parties are willing. It seems, when analyzing the negotiations on the border, that both China and India have viewed the border dispute through a realist perspective, relying on a future of hard bargaining to attain their respective areas near the border.

For the border dispute to be resolved in the near future, both China and India must realize the issue's impact on progress in Asian geopolitics.

Dr Namrata Goswami is senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and research fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Jenee Sharon is a research assistant at USIP. The views expressed in this article are solely that of the authors.

(Copyright 2013 Namrata Goswami and Jenee Sharon.)

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