India, China near pact aimed at keeping lid on border tension


By Sanjeev Miglani (Reuters)

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – – India and China are close to an agreement to stop tension on their contested border touching of confrontation while they try to figure out a way to break decades-old stalemate on overlapping claims to long stretches of the Himalayas.

The border defense cooperation pact that diplomats are racing to finalize ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to China next week is a small step forward in a complicated relationship marked by booming economic ties but also growing distrust.

In May, the two armies ended a three-week standoff in the western Himalayas after Chinese troops set up a camp at least 10 km (6 miles) inside territory claimed by India, triggering a public outcry and calls that India should stand up to its powerful neighbor.

China denied that troops had crossed into Indian territory.

Under the new agreement, the two nuclear-armed sides will give notice of patrols along the ill-defined border. They will ensure that patrols do not “tail” each other to reduce the chance of confrontation.

The two armies, strung out along the 4,000-km (2,500-mile) border from the high altitude Ladakh plateau in the west to the jungles of Arunachal Pradesh in the east, have also agreed to set up a hotline between top ranking officers, in addition to existing brigade-level contacts.

“The key issue is maintaining peace and tranquillity on the border,” said an Indian government official.

The border defense cooperation agreement is built on existing confidence-building measures and is designed to ensure that patrolling along the Line of Actual Control, as the unsettled border is called, does not escalate into an unintended skirmish, he said.

“Barring last minute problems, there should be an agreement. It’s a question of crossing the Ts and dotting the Is,” the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

India and China fought a brief border war in 1962 and since then ties have been mired in distrust. China lays claims to more than 90,000 square km (35,000 sq miles) of land in the eastern sector. India disputes that and instead says China occupies 38,000 sq km (14,600 sq miles) of territory on the Aksai Chin plateau in the west.

A Chinese airline last week blocked two Indian archers from disputed Arunachal Pradesh from travelling to China, souring the mood in India just days before Singh travels to Beijing.

“The fundamental problem they are not tackling is defining the Line of Actual Control and then a settlement of the border,” said Srikanth Kondapalli, a China expert at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.