This year marks the 60th anniversary of Sino-Indian diplomatic relations. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is planning an official visit to India before the end of the year. In recent years, the Sino-Indian strategic cooperative partnership has maintained a momentum of steady development. But a lack of mutual political trust still exists between the two countries. And the boundary question still interferes with their relations. This has aroused the concern of both sides.
The 14th bilateral boundary talks were held in Beijing on November 29 and 30. The two special representatives—Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo and Indian National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon—attended the talks. They exchanged views on solving the boundary question properly and keeping peace and stability in their border areas. The two sides agreed to push forward the negotiation process, seeking a fair and reasonable solution acceptable to both sides.
The Sino-Indian border stretches for about 2,000 km, and the two countries have never officially mapped it out. For a long time, the two sides abided by a traditional customary line based on their respective administrative regions.
The boundary question is a legacy of British rule in India, when Britain invaded China's Tibet in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. On March 24, 1914, Britain drew the McMahon Line in the eastern part of the Sino-Indian border through secret exchanges of letters with representatives of the Tibetan local government, without informing the representatives of the central government. Therefore, the McMahon Line, separating Tibet Autonomous Region and India in the border's eastern section and putting 90,000 square km of Chinese territory on the southern slopes of the Himalayas into British India, has always been regarded as invalid by the Chinese Government.
In 1947, when India gained independence, it inherited the disputed territory as well. In March 1959, India officially brought forward a territorial demand. The disputed area totaled about 125,000 square km—90,000 square km in the eastern section, 2,000 square km in the middle section, and 33,000 square km in the western section.
Over the years, China and India have taken a series of measures to push forward the negotiations.
In February 1979, when Indian External Affairs Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited China, China put forward a package of proposals on mutual understanding and accommodations on the boundary question. A year later, in June 1980, then Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping reiterated them when meeting with Indian journalists. This demonstrated the positive and sincere stance of China on this question.
From December 1981 to November 1987, China and India held eight vice-ministerial talks, exploring guiding principles to resolve the boundary question, but failed to reach agreement.
In December 1988, Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited China. Leaders of the two countries discussed basic principles on the solution of the boundary question and agreed to establish a vice foreign ministerial level joint working group.
From 1989 to 2005, the joint working group had held altogether 15 meetings. These meetings, which went on in a harmonious atmosphere, promoted understanding of each other's stances.
Especially after entering the 21st century, Sino-India relations have entered a path of comprehensive improvement and rapid development. New levels have been created continually.
In June 2003, Premier Wen and his Indian counterpart agreed to each appoint a special representative to explore a framework for resolving the boundary question.
The establishment of the special representative meeting mechanism reflected the further development of China-India bilateral relations in recent years. It showed the importance the two governments attached to the border question and their determination to accelerate the settlement process. As well, the talks have been upgraded from vice-ministerial to ministerial level.
Generally, in the past seven years since this boundary talk mechanism was established, great achievements have been made. Through them, the two countries have exchanged views fully and obtained a clearer understanding of each other's stances. Also, taking the opportunities offered by these talks, they have exchanged views on international and regional issues.
Currently, the talks have entered a critical phase, as the two sides seek to establish a framework for resolving the boundary question.
Great patience, determination and confidence are called for in the solution of the Sino-India boundary question. With a complex background, a large area of disputed territory and the involvement of the feelings of the peoples of the two countries, this question is quite difficult to resolve. It is a problem left over from history. Therefore, we should face the reality and actively develop Sino-Indian relations with great patience, creating favorable conditions for an early solution.
Moreover, the two sides should vigorously promote mutual political trust and increase amenities exchanges so as to strengthen the public sentiment for friendship. It is essential to face squarely the border dispute's influence on the two countries' relations, with the view that its solution is conducive to lasting friendship between the peoples of the two countries.
Therefore, leaders of the two countries should adopt a decisive manner. They should treat the boundary question from a strategic height and the big picture of friendship of 2.5 billion people. Mutual understanding and mutual accommodation are also essential.
It can be predicted that Wen's upcoming visit to India will definitely further promote stable and healthy development of Sino-Indian relations.
The author is a former Chinese Ambassador to India