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China-India relations: border mechanism may herald southern silk route revival October 28, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : DeSilva-Ranasinghe, Serge, Future Directions International, India , trackback

Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe

First published in Future Directions International on 12 October 2011.


The year 2011 appears to be shaping up as a transformational year in China-India relations. China and India seem to be taking sensible and pragmatic steps towards stabilising relations, which have the potential to herald a new era of prosperity and co-operation in the years ahead. In the latest indication of this improvement, China and India have agreed to create a border mechanism, termed the ‘Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs’, to monitor and diffuse incidents along their shared 4,057 km border.


The idea was first broached early in April 2011, by Indian PM Dr Manmohan Singh and Chinese President Hu Jintao. There are strong indications that both countries intend to hold the 15th round of border talks by year’s end, which analysts say could lead to the signing of the much-anticipated border agreement.

Significantly, in late September India and China held their inaugural Strategic Economic Dialogue in Beijing, which aimed to discuss ways of minimising India’s balance of trade deficit with China, while also exploring new opportunities for trade and areas of cooperation.

Indeed, trade between the two countries is showing signs of unprecedented growth. The Indian media has reported that between January and August this year, trade with China expanded by 17 per cent. Indian news agency Rediff claimed China has either undertaken, or is presently involved in, infrastructure development projects worth $40 billion throughout India. Economic analysts predict bilateral trade will reach US$70 billion by the end of the year, which is in line with the ambitious goal shared by China and India, to generate US$100 billion in two-way trade by 2015.

There is a clear logic to this improvement in bilateral relations, which has been commented on for many years by more pragmatic-minded Indian strategic analysts. For instance, the sentiment voiced back in August 2004 by the director of the Chennai-based Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, Major General Dipankar Banerjee, states a clear case: “China’s increasing clout in the world, economically today and politically tomorrow, makes it necessary to interact closely with the Middle Kingdom.”

He further elaborated: “For many parts of our territory close to China, prosperity will depend on developing positive commercial linkages with it. For the rest of the country as well trade with China will provide an enormous economic opportunity. India’s northeast can be linked to Yunan, a province of China with immense potential.” He added: “The possibilities for these linkages to facilitate commerce with the deprived areas of India’s northeast are limitless. The southern Silk Route then can be revived.”

India has also extended invitations to a number of important senior Chinese officials. For instance, Song Xiuyan, Governor of Qinghai Province, visited India for the first time in September this year. Following this, India invited the Chairman of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Nur Bekri, who is an ethnic Uighur, to visit in November.

In addition, after the two countries agreed in June this year to recommence the military ties that were suspended in August last year, India sent military delegations to Beijing.  Furthermore, earlier this year China and India pledged to resume the annual defence dialogue in January 2012, which will also lead to enhanced military cooperation, exchanges and exercises.

The evidence presented suggests that both countries are seeking ways and means to benefit from amicable relations. A more stable border will be a significant confidence building initiative, which could act as a catalyst to stabilise the Indian subcontinent and the wider region in the years ahead.




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