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Ajit Doval Becomes China Negotiator
Nov 29, 2014

Since 2003, in 17 rounds of talks, India and China have relied on quiet diplomacy between a top official from either side to resolve their thorny territorial dispute. Termed Special Representatives or SRs, these negotiators—who must enjoy the confidence of their national leaders—are mandated to bypass the endless technical wrangling of diplomats, bureaucrats and soldiers.

Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval would conduct boundary negotiations and strategic consultations with China. Ajit Doval will be India’s fifth SR after Brajesh Mishra (2003-04); J.N. Dixit (2004-05); M.K. Narayanan (2005-10); and Shivshankar Menon (2010-14).  For a decade, China’s SR was Dai Bingguo, who retired last year and succeeded by Yang Jiechi.

Ajit Doval will now negotiate with Yang Jiechi to decide ownership of some 1,30,000 square kilometres of territory that both countries claim. This is spread across three areas:

The uninhabited Western Sector in Ladakh, where the dispute involves 38,000 sq km.
The small Central Sector in Uttarakhand, which is just 2,000 sq km.
The large and contentious Eastern Sector, which measures some 90,000 sq km, practically the whole of Arunachal Pradesh.

Indian diplomats see China’s acceptance of the watershed principle as tacit acceptance of the McMahon Line, drawn along the watershed in 1914, which India claims is the border between Arunachal Pradesh and Tibet. The clause about protecting the settled populations is seen in New Delhi as Chinese acceptance that populous Tawang remains with India.

The SR talks are complemented by two other simultaneous dialogue tracks. One is between India’s foreign secretary and China’s equivalent vice-minister for foreign affairs. The second track is a Technical Group, which includes the dealing foreign ministry officials from both sides.

The SR Dialogue was instituted during Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s visit to China in 2003. There had been little progress in 8 rounds of talks between officials from 1981-88; and in 14 meetings of a Joint Working Group (JWG) from 1988-2003. Both sides agreed that a political solution to the boundary question, negotiated between empowered, top-level officials, would allow the pursuit of broader strategic goals.


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