Changing Asia Series : “Overcoming History: Sino-Indian Relations” – Shyam Saran in conversation with Manoj Joshi at IHC on April 20, 2015

Society for Policy Studies in collaboration with the Indian Habitat Centre held a talk in the Changing Asia Series on ” Overcoming History: Sino-Indian Relations “. Shyam Saran, Former Chairman, NSAB & Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research in conversation with Dr.Manoj Joshi, Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation

Venue: Gulmohar Hall, India Habitat Centre


————————Overcoming History: Sino-Indian Relations——————————–

Sino-Indian Relations

Society for Policy Studies (SPS), in collaboration with the Indian Habitat Centre, organised a talk as part of the Changing Asia Series on “Overcoming History: Sino-Indian Relations.” Mr. Shyam Saran, former Chairman, NSAB, former Foreign Secretary & Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research, was in conversation with Dr. Manoj Joshi, Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation and a China expert.

India-China Border Dispute

In framing the context of the discussion Dr. Manoj Joshi pointed to the upcoming visit of the Indian Prime Minister to China in mid- May. The conversation focused on the resolution of the India-China border dispute as the two countries were increasingly finding the issue to be an impediment to stronger bilateral relations. Cordial relations between the two economic powerhouses have also acquired global and regional overtones. The Indian External Affairs minister’s openness to an “out of the box solution” and the speculation on a path-breaking Chinese solution during the PM’s visit too has turned the spotlight back on the border issue.

Ambassador Shyam Saran, who has dealt with this issue in various capacities in the Government of India, said that the Indian argument then had been (and still is) that there should be an “LAC plus solution”. Anything less than that may not be acceptable to Indian public opinion, he maintained. He said there had to be basis for a settlement of the border dispute that was acceptable to both sides and at the moment he did not “much scope for a compromises” on either side. He said he cannot foresee a solution on the basis of a status quo – unless there was some movement, or some compromise, or concession by either side, which appeared remote.

Previously, said Saran, there was no dispute in the eastern sector and a solution hinged on whether the Chinese could make any concessions on the Western sector. However, after 1985, China seemed to have moved the goalposts that Chinese concessions in the western sector would hinge India making meaningful concessions in the eastern sector. It was this time that Tawang was pointed as a non negotiable stand by Bejing, which pointed out to its religious importance to the Tibetans. But Saran says that setttlement that requires to give up Tawang, the district in its northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, and site of its largest monastery, is “not doable and non-negotiable.”

Yet the two sides have agreed on a broad framework for resolution of the issue based on: one, areas having settled population and the second that of prominent geographical features, implying the watershed line.

Border Security Infrastructure

In the past ten years there has been a growing asymmetry in the border security infrastructure of the two countries. China has seen an exponential growth in its infrastructure, including border posts and watch towers, not to mention new approach roads, and India has been trying to catch up. Infrastructure has led to increase in border security patrols on both the sides, which has resulted in increased incidents of clashes between patrols on both sides. Improved infrastructure has also led to increase in both the speed and quantum of response to border incidents giving a sense of escalating responses to border skirmishes.


The audience, comprising a lot of serving and retired diplomats and domain experts, felt that a balanced approach should be taken towards the relationship wherein the importance of resolving the territorial dispute is not lessened yet areas of common interest such as trade, global financial system, climate change ect must be pursued and strengthened. To that end the PM must raise the issue of PoK in context of the CPEC. Saran pointed out that Indian opposition to Chinese regional economic and infrastructure initiatives seemingly threatening Indian interests must be in terms of credible and workable alternatives rather than mere rhetoric.

He said India should be “upfront” in voicing its concern and make known its opposition over a proposed China-Pakistan proposed mega corridor project that is expected to pass through PoK. “If you create empty spaces, the Chinese will just walk in,” Saran, with long years of dealing with the Chinese, cautioned.

“What China is doing in PoK is a matter of great concern, and we should make the concern known. There is no reason why we should not be upfront about voicing opposition to what is being done,” said Saran.

“To say that India by raising the issue is creating an obstacle in relations is not true…I don’t think India should go about giving up claims with China.. That is not the right way of dealing with the relationship,” Saran stated.

According to Saran, the Chinese agreement with Pakistan says that the “final disposal of the agreement will be when the Kashmir issue is resolved between India and Pakistan.

As Prime Minister Modi visits China in a month, the question naturally remains: Is China going to adopt a new posture? Is Beijing going to spring a surprise that a former Australian PM recently talked about during a visit to India?

He says a breakthrough seems unlikely, given the position on both sides, though he didnt rule out more confidence-building measures (CBMs) between the two sides to prevent eruption of sudden border conflicts.

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