C. Raja Mohan is a Lowy Institute Nonresident Fellow.
The latest round of talks on the boundary dispute, held in Beijing today between the Special Representatives of India and China, are likely to see an intense focus on maintaining peace and tranquility on the long and contested frontier.
The original objective of the talks was to find a political settlement to the boundary dispute that has hobbled the bilateral relationship between the two Asian giants since the 1950s. Empowered envoys were given the mandate to find a solution. Currently India's National Security Adviser, Shivshankar Menon and China's State Councilor Yang Jiechi are the special representatives.
That the current round is the sixteenth since the negotiations began in 2003 has underlined the difficulty of resolving the boundary dispute. The Chinese military intrusion into the eastern Ladakh region of Jammu & Kashmir during April–May this year brought into sharp view the problems of maintaining peace on the disputed frontier.
The visit of Chinese premier Li Keqiang to Delhi in May provided the occasion to defuse the crisis for the moment. But it also reflected the return of the border problem to the centre-stage in the bilateral relationship, which had seen steady normalisation over the last quarter of a century.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh warned China that without peace and tranquility on the border, Delhi would find it hard to move forward with Beijing on other issues. Premier Li acknowledged the Indian concerns and the two sides agreed to devise new mechanisms to prevent future tensions.
Menon and Yang will not, however, find it easy to come up with effective answers; for the nature of the Sino-Indian border dispute has changed in the last few years. The rapid expansion of Chinese military power and the modernisation of Chinese infrastructure in Tibet over the last few years have tilted the balance on the frontier in favour of Beijing.
India's belated military response has accentuated the tensions. The PLA is unlikely to end its newly aggressive approach to the patrolling of the border and asserting its claims. Delhi, in turn, will not end its current efforts to match the Chinese military capabilities on the ground.
For all the good will between the political leaderships in India and China, there is no escaping the fact that Sino-Indian frontier has re-emerged as a major military flashpoint in Asia.
Photo by Flickr user rajkumar1220.