China, India Sign Border Pact, But Visa Pact Remains Elusive

on October 23 2013 8:04 AM
Li and Singh
Li Keqiang speaks during a joint news conference with Manmohan Singh at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct. 23, 2013. Reuters

China and India sought to ease a longstanding border dispute with a comprehensive agreement that was signed Wednesday during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Beijing, after a flare-up in tensions in April when New Delhi accused Chinese forces of a deep incursion into Indian territory in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Border Defense Cooperation Agreement, signed after a meeting between Singh and his Chinese counterpart, Li Keqiang, established that neither side would initiate a military confrontation or follow patrols of the other side in areas where there is no common understanding about territorial rights. The two nuclear-armed neighbors lay overlapping claims to a 90,000 square-kilometer stretch (35,000 sq miles) of international border in the eastern Himalayas.

“We agreed that peace and tranquility on our borders must remain the foundation for growth in the India-China relationship, even as we move forward the negotiations towards a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement to the India-China boundary question,” Singh said in a statement after talks with Li.

Singh added that the two leaders agreed to respect each other’s independent foreign policies, and that “the relationships pursued by India and China with other countries must not become a source of concern for each other.”

The other agreements signed on Wednesday included one on strengthening cooperation on trans-border rivers, but the two sides could not reach a deal on liberalizing procedures for issuing visas to Chinese nationals, believed to be the effect of a recent controversy over China issuing stapled visas to two Indian archers from the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims to be a part of its sovereign territory.

“What we are now saying why should someone from Arunachal Pradesh be treated separately. If you want to give stapled visas then give it to all Indians, then it is a different issue. People of Arunachal Pradesh cannot be treated differently. That is what we object. It is a silly thing to do. It is a big brother attitude,” sources told India Today, prior to the signing of other agreements.

Delhi and Beijing have not been able to reach a resolution on much of the international border between the two countries, although it has been more than half a century since the two Asian giants fought a brief war.

There has been bitterness and mistrust between the two countries lingering since the 1962 war, despite regular bilateral talks since 1981 and among the irritants that contribute to the tensions is India’s political standing favoring autonomy for Tibet, which has been under Chinese rule.

Nevertheless, China is India’s biggest trading partner with bilateral trade of more than $60 billion, which is expected to touch $100 billion by 2015.

"China and India are two old civilizations," Li said, according to Reuters. "Our two peoples have the wisdom and our two governments have the ability to manage our differences along the border so that it won't  affect the overall interests of our bilateral relations."

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