Sino-Indian Ties: The 11th Round of Joint Working Group Meeting

07 Jun, 1999    ·   195

Bhartendu Kumar Singh says though the JWG has not been able to address the resolution of the border problem, it has emerged as the most important platform for the Sino-Indian dialogue

The 11th round of the Joint Working Group (JWG) meeting between China and India was scheduled for May 1998 but finally took place in Beijing on April 27-28, 1999. It could not take place at the scheduled time for two reasons. First, soon after the BJP - led government came to power, some of its ministers made statements critical of China . While one of them dubbed China as enemy no.1 and promoted the `China-threat theory'; another issued statements espousing Taiwan 's cause. As a result, the bilateral relations which was progressing towards normalcy came to a grinding halt. Second, the justification for the Pokhran tests given viz. a security threat (from China ) was not taken to kindly by Chinese leaders. A peeved China ,  did not respond positively to India 's plea for holding the 11th round of the JWG for months.



Achievements in the earlier rounds of JWG



Set up in the wake of the historic visit to China by the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1988, the JWG has been an important instrument for speeding up the normalisation process. Its twin objective of ensuring peace and tranquility in the border areas and making concrete recommendations for an overall solution of the vexed boundary question laid the foundation for the later strides taken in bilateral relations. Indeed, in the ten meetings of the JWG between 1989 to 1997, the two countries have come a long way from their dramatically opposite positions on the Sino-Indian border to create a conducive environment for resolution of the problem. This was done by the evolution of several Confidence and Security-Building Measures (CSBM's). For instance, there was an agreement on meetings between the military commanders of the two sides taking place at least twice a year and setting up 'hotline' links between these commanders (1992); opening up of more border trading posts and measures for increased transparency about military positions and activities along the Line Of Actual Control (LOAC) (1993); avoidance of troop concentrations (1994); and dismantling military posts in some areas (1995). Following an agreement reached during Prime Minister Narsimha Rao's visit to China in September 1993, a Sino-Indian Expert Group was set up in February 1994 to assist the JWG comprising high ranking diplomats, surveyors, and military personnel from both sides. At its 10th round of talks held in New Delhi in August 1997, the JWG ratified the agreement on extending CBM's to the military field as decided during President Jiang Zemin's visit to New Delhi in November 1996.



The 11th round of JWG:



Given the circumstances in which the 11th round of the JWG was held, its success was under a cloud from the very beginning. Moreover, when Foreign Secretary K. Raghunath left for Beijing - the BJP led government had been voted out of power. The JWG lost much time with India emphasizing that it did not regard China as a security threat and China reciprocating these sentiments. Apart from a general review of the state of bilateral relations, including the situation in border areas, the meeting ended without any significant progress. Indeed, the momentum of the earlier talks seemed to be lost. During the meeting, however, there was a subtle shift in Chinese official language: whereas its formula once used to be mutual understanding and mutual accommodation to resolve the border dispute, Beijing now advocates that the matter be "properly handled" with "mutual respect






Over the last decade, the JWG has emerged as the most important platform for the Sino-Indian dialogue. It is true that the JWG has not been able to address the resolution of the border problem. Given the complexity of the issue, it was not expected to arrive at an early solution. But the JWG had been moving gradually towards a point when both India and China would find a mutually agreed solution. The failure of the 11th JWG will only delay the process. Moreover, with no date set for the next round of the JWG, Sino-Indian relations continue to be in a state of suspense. To restore mutual tmrust and goodwill, both China and India must explore possible areas of cooperation. The coming together of China and India in their criticism of NATO actions in Yugoslavia and their signing the agreement on
Trans-Asian Highway
(which seeks to set up a railway line from Yunan in China to Paris via Myanmar , Bangladesh , India and Pakistan ) are good steps towards restoring faith and good will in Sino-Indian relations