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No magic wand for Sino-Indian border issue: Former diplomat


The Sino-Indian border issue is a complex problem which cannot be solved overnight as both the countries have to reach a strategic understanding of the situation, says former diplomat Ranjit Singh Kalha.

“This is a complex issue and cannot be solved overnight. Unless and until there is a strategic understanding it will be very difficult for a settlement. Solution is only that we keep putting our case continuously and work on it slow and steady there is no magic wand for resolving such a dispute,” Kalha said.

Kalha along with former ambassador Ronen Sen and Srikanth Kondapalli, professor in Chinese studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University were discussing the issue at a session – Negotiating the China-India Boundary: Why no Settlement so Far? organised by Ananta Aspen Centre.

A former secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs Ministry, Kalha had led India’s negotiating team in the Boundary Sub-Group from 1985 to 1988.

Kalha’s book ‘India-China Boundary Issues: Quest for Settlement’ published in 2014 includes researches from the declassified Chinese, Russian and US records on the matter.

“I have basically discussed in this book the reasons on why we don’t have a settlement both from the Indian side and the Chinese side. I have also given them a little bit of the background on the negotiations which took place from the last 50 to 60 years,” Kalha said.
According to the former diplomat until and unless there is an understanding between China and India on the larger strategic issues it will become rather difficult to have a settlement.

“A boundary settlement is not a simple drawing of lines on a map or on the ground, it’s a political act and since it is a political act the two countries in turn have to be sure that what they are getting is better than what you have at the present moment,” Kalha said while discussing the issue.

Citing an example, he goes on to state that India is in possession of Arunachal Pradesh and China is in occupation of Aksai Chin and if a settlement has to be achieved, it means give and take of territories which would be the natural consequence of a compromise.

“The question arises here that new situation that comes about if such a deal is struck between the two nations will it be better than the present situation or not? So that’s a political determination which one has to make. And as far as I can see right now that situation does not prevail,” Kalha said.

Recounting the visit of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1988, former ambassador Ronen Sen says that the reasons for the unsettled dispute may have changed over the years as compared to the present situation but the goals remain the same.

“This issue is purely not just a technical issue. Secondly, its is not the only problem India had with China at that particular point in time and its linked to the overall relationship between the two countries and with the regional and global perceptions and goals of the two nations and these goals are not necessarily the same today as compared to that time,” Sen said.

Observing that relations between the present Narendra Modi led government and the Chinese government are on good terms, Kalha said “In most such cases emotion plays a very small part its hard facts and hard facts pertaining to strategic interests. And strategic interest of countries doesn’t change with change of governments they remain the same.

“Because after all the geography, economy and country is the same, governments may change but your strategic interests don’t change. So, you may have good relations which makes things easier to negotiate and talk but those hard facts cannot be ignored,” Kalha said.

India and China have so far held 18 rounds of talks at the level of special representatives on the boundary problem but many sticky issues still need to be sorted out.


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