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Consensus on strategic goals

Consensus on strategic goals

The special representative-level talks between Indian national security Advisor Ajit Doval and Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Chengdu in southwestern Sichuan province on Saturday concluded with both sides committing to intensify their efforts to achieve a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution to the protracted boundary dispute. The two sides also resolved to ensure that peace and tranquillity are maintained at the borders and the dispute should not affect the overall relations between the two countries. Earlier, Indian defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, during a programme in Arunachal Pradesh, had cautioned that differences between the two countries should not become a dispute. The disputed boundary between India and China extends to 3,488 km of Line of Actual Control (LAC). What is noteworthy about the consensus achieved in the talks held between the designated special representatives of the two countries is that they have realised the strategic importance of peace and an early solution to the vexed boundary issue will further serve the strategic goals between the two most populous countries in the world. So far, the two nations were seen locked in an intense competition to increase their influence in the neighbouring countries while the latest round of talks on the boundary question has, for the first time, featured the common strategic goals that they need to work on, making the boundary dispute an issue of secondary importance. What makes the two powerful Asian countries leave aside the knotty boundary issue that practically made them evade direct relations for a long time until the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi took an ice-breaking visit to China in 1989 and provided the much-need impetus to bilateral relations? The answer lies in the recent developments in the neighbouring countries where the rivalry between India and China to increase their respective influence has resulted in some awkward developments. The most significant of these developments took place in Sri Lanka where in order to accommodate China-backed Mahinda Rajapaksa in the government, President Maithripala Sirisena suspended and then dissolved the Parliament, sacked the incumbent Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe and appointed Rajapaksha as the new Prime Minister. However, the President's move turned out to be a major fiasco, with the Speaker and subsequently, the Supreme Court overriding the President's whimsical steps. China was the first country to have acknowledged Rajapaksha's elevation from an opposition party leader to the Prime Minister of the Indian Ocean island nation and when the Supreme Court ruled that the dissolution of the Parliament was an unconstitutional move, China was the first country to express concerns over the developments. When the Parliament convened after the Supreme Court ruling, the members from different parties had a fist fight in the house.

Another example of how things have turned sour for China comes from the Maldives where the united opposition leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has recently taken oath as the country's new President after defeating another China favourite and Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen in the recently concluded election. In the five-year rule, Yameen not only handed a number of big-ticket infrastructure projects to China but also put many important opposition leaders in jail and forced others to go into exile. Yameen also put some supreme court judges behind the bars after they ruled that the incarceration of the opposition leaders was unconstitutional and they should be released from the jail. His government even imposed a state of emergency and stopped renewing work permits of Indian workers. Yameen was finally thrown out of power by the people in the presidential election, who gave a comprehensive mandate against him. Yet another example why China needs India's soft-power image to be on its side is the case of Pakistan where a group of heavily armed terrorists belonging to the outlawed Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) attacked Chinese Consulate in Karachi a couple of days ago. Though the alert security personnel ensured that the terrorists did not enter the consulate and harm the diplomatic staff inside, the attack once again brought in focus the issue of China's domineering presence in Pakistan. China is developing a string of power and infrastructure projects under a massive $60 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), much of which lies in Balochistan. These example of how China's diplomatic gains have seen serious setbacks in recent months point to the fact that there is no permanent gain in the diplomatic parlance. Despite any significant effort on its part, India has been able to replace China as the most trusted partner of Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Even its relations with Pakistan is on the mend and China's investments Sri Lanka and the Maldives is now under the scrutiny of new governments which are averse to China. It is in this context that China and India need to work out their strategic goals and mechanism to further and safeguard these objectives. The rancour on boundary issues needs to be left behind.

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