Border pact with China does not tie India’s hands

FrontShivshankar Menon, Montek Singh Ahluwalia with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese President Xi Jinping, in Beijing on Wednesday. PTI

India and China on Wednesday firmed up a Border Defence Cooperation Agreement which, while laying out a protocol to prevent incidents like this summer's Depsang face-off, puts no restrictions on India developing border infrastructure or enhancing military capabilities along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

S Jaishankar, India's ambassador to China, said the agreement upholds the principle, agreed upon earlier, of "mutual and equal security", which recognizes the asymmetrical deployments on the border.

"This principle allows both countries to take appropriate measures according to their own security needs. So, the short answer is no," Jaishankar said in response to a question on whether the border pact would impact on India's plans along the LAC.

The agreement in an incremental improvement on existing protocols of 1993, 1996 and 2006 with some overlapping areas. Certain specific suggestions on improving communications, such as considering a hotline between the two military headquarters, are new.

Broadly, the agreement stands on four concepts:

Prevent a military clash or conflict: This is dealt with in a first-time provision that neither side would follow or tail the other side's patrol in areas where there is no common understanding of the LAC. In case of a "doubtful situation", the agreement provides for a "right to seek clarification" through established mechanisms, and in a faceoff situation like Depsang, both sides are required to "exercise maximum self-restraint, refrain from provocative actions and not use force or threaten the use of force". The agreement underlines that forces from both sides will extend courtesy, and prevent exchange of fire.

Strengthening communication: This is laid out in five graduated steps, beginning with more flag meetings between border personnel; periodic meetings between officers of the relevant Army commands on the Indian side with the heads of China's two military regions — Chengdu and Lanzhou — that deal with the India border; periodic meetings between defence ministry officials on the two sides; meetings of the working mechanism on border affairs headed by the joint secretary (East Asia) in the Ministry of External Affairs on the Indian side; and the Annual Defence Dialogue at the level of defence secretary. Also, the agreement seeks to consider establishing a new channel by way of a hotline between military headquarters of both countries.

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