China reluctant to endorse Indian position on Kashmir
17 November 2002
NEW DELHI: Senior Indian and Chinese officials are meeting here this week to try and find a way out of the unexpected technical difficulties that have arisen in their talks on the Western Sector of their long and contested border. The Foreign Secretary, Kanwal Sibal, will lead the Indian delegation to the annual bilateral discussions within the framework of the Joint Working Group on their boundary dispute. A Vice-Foreign Minister of China, Wang Yi, would head the Chinese team to the talks scheduled to start on Thursday. Besides the boundary question, the two sides are also likely to review the full gamut of bilateral relations and discuss a possible time-frame for the long- awaited visit to China by the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee. It has been nearly a decade since an Indian Prime Minister has travelled to Beijing. One problem that has come up in the Western Sector is apparently related to the representation of Pakistan- occupied Kashmir and the territory ceded by Pakistan to China from Jammu and Kashmir in the maps offered by India. The Chinese side appears reluctant to be seen as endorsing the Indian position on the Kashmir question. A second difficulty relates to the huge gap that separates the assessments of India and China on where the current control of the two sides lies in the Western Sector. Such differences existed in the Middle Sector too, but were found manageable. The divergence of the mutual perceptions is believed to be much greater in the Western Sector. Since the early 1990s, the border talks between the two countries have focussed on delineating the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that separates the two armed forces on their nearly 4,000-km-long border. The discussions on defining the alignment of the LAC are without prejudice to their respective claims on the boundary between the two countries. A little over two years ago, India and China had agreed at the political level to accelerate the process of clarification of the LAC as an important step towards the eventual resolution of the boundary dispute. This exercise is done at a bilateral expert group of diplomats and military officials which reports to the JWG. As part of this political understanding, more meetings of the expert group have taken place in the last couple of years than the previous few. At a meeting earlier this year in March, Indian and Chinese officials completed the process of exchanging maps on the middle sector of their border. During the visit of the then External Affairs Minister, Jaswant Singh, to China at the end of March, it was agreed that the delineation of the LAC in the Western Sector would be completed by the end of this year and the Eastern Sector would be taken up in 2003. But the two meetings of the expert group that followed have run into technical difficulties and as a result there has been no exchange of maps of the Western Sector. Since the exercise to clarify the LAC is only about current ascertaining control and is not about resolving conflicting claims on the boundary, it should not be impossible for the two sides to get past the difficulties. Some creative diplomacy and an intervention from higher political level have now become necessary to maintain the momentum of the last couple of years in dealing with the boundary question that continues to bedevil Sino-Indian relations.