India has sidestepped a Chinese attempt to delink the Dokalam standoff from the Special Representative mechanism to find a solution to the 4,057-km-long Line of Actual Control that divides the two nations.
Beijing had said that the current standoff was ‘out of the purview’ of the Special Representatives, according to officials. Beijing claimed that since the boundary at Sikkim Sector had already been delimited, as per Chinese version, by the 1890 convention between UK and China, the SR mechanism had no scope.
New Delhi, however, pointed out that while the status of Sikkim as an integral part of India had been settled in 2003, the boundary in the sector remained unsettled and was a matter of negotiation between SRs.
The aspects of tri-junction (Sino-Bhutan-India) points along Sikkim and India-China boundary alignment in the Sikkim sector remain unsettled and was referred in a written common understanding between the SRs in December 2012.
According to this understanding, the trijunction border has to be settled trilaterally though India and China have not held any discussion with Bhutan since 2012. And there are still steps to be covered before the boundary is finalised on the Sino-Indian boundary in the Sikkim sector as per the same understanding.
Chinese officials insist that Yang Jiechi had met NSA and SR Ajit Doval last month in Beijing in his capacity as State Councillor and not Special Representative. The Indian side, however, indicated that the current border standoff was a key agenda item at that meet held on the sidelines of the Brics NSA meet.
Besides diplomats, Doval is in touch with his Chinese counterpart Yang to find a solution to the standoff and New Delhi has hinted that a thaw is in process. Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj while speaking in the Rajya Sabha had stated that bilateral negotiations were on. “We will keep patience to resolve the issue…We will keep engaging with China to resolve the dispute,” she had said while adding that both sides were engaged in a dialogue on various other aspects of bilateral ties.
Notwithstanding repeated rhetoric by Chinese scholars and foreign ministry spokespersons, a flare-up on the ground is unlikely ahead of the Brics summit as it would be a blow to Beijing’s image if any PLA action derails the Brics summit. Russia, another key stakeholder in Brics, is against any attempts that would derail the group. A former Indian diplomat who had served in China described Beijing’s rhetoric as art of war — first hit at the enemy’s mind and defeat him psychologically.
“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting,” the diplomat said. The Chinese are probably indulging in rhetoric to send message to neighbours in southeast and east Asia who are closely watching the standoff and probably comparing with their reaction on the South China Sea. Officials and experts in New Delhi hint that Beijing may be looking for a face saving formula.
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