India-China Bilateral Dialogue Likely to See Push for NSG-BRI Swap
When National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi, Special Representatives (SRs) of India and China respectively, hold the 20th round of the SR-level talks in New Delhi on 22 December, the Indian side's biggest talking points would be:
- Pakistan-sponsored terrorism: Pakistan-based terror fountainheads like Masood Azhar and Hafiz Saeed and Chinese non-cooperation in this regard
- China's continued opposition to Indian membership of the elite Nuclear Suppliers Group
- Indian concerns about the CPEC route which passes through Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir
In their 19 rounds of talks held thus far, the Special Representatives of India and China on the boundary dispute have exchanged maps of all the three sectors: Eastern, Western and Middle. The maps have red lines from each side, signifying the contentious zones.
Now the ball is in the court of the political leadership of the two countries. However, the Indian side has made the following points clear to the Chinese side:
- India won’t accept any proposal that entails population transfer
- India won’t be adversely disposed to territory exchange as long as it’s done in a give-and-take spirit, doesn’t involve populated areas and doesn’t suffer loss of territory
- India won’t be averse to a boundary dispute solution which is largely a cartographic exercise, doesn’t involve population transfer and entails zero loss in terms of territory
All this is a political call and it’s up to the political leadership of the two sides to make it a done deal, whether in a day or in a decade. However, a little known fact is that the two SRs are virtually without work as they have already finished their task with regard to the India-China boundary dispute.
Why These Special Representative-Level Talks?
The ball now lies in the court of apex leadership of the two countries – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping – as the two sides have exchanged maps of their boundary, the final stage of the two SRs’ remit and brief.
The obvious question is: Why these talks then? Well, the SR-level talks happens to be the only mechanism through which the two giant neighbours’ top political leadership stay engaged. Both the SRs enjoy the full confidence of their respective leaders and are thus in a position to navigate bilateral relations in a better way, cutting through the bureaucratic red tape and manage crisis points.
What’s on China’s Mind?
The SR mechanism was tried and tested during the 73-day-long Doklam standoff, and an amicable resolution of the Doklam episode underlined the importance of the SR mechanism more robustly. Hence, the two countries' decision to continue with the SR mechanism.
This means that the two SRs will be free to discuss anything and everything – be it the immediate neighbourhood, the Afghanistan issue, the Iran conundrum, the Jerusalem controversy and Sino-Indian responses, the terrorism problem, or China's Belt and Road Initiative, with its major component going through Pakistan, known as the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
From China’s perspective, the following issues will be of prime importance:
- India’s participation in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), particularly after the public overtures made by the Chinese ambassador in India, wherein he offered to rename CPEC and even alter its route to persuade India to join up
- India’s burgeoning strategic partnership with Japan and the United States
- The Quad initiative, wherein senior officials of Japan, US, Australia and India recently met to revive their strategic quadrilateral after a decade
- The Dalai Lama issue
Significantly, just a month ago, the Chinese envoy in India had made a strong pitch for the “Dragon-Elephant tango” (the modern day equivalent of “Hindi-Cheeni Bhai Bhai”) and pitched for greater Sino-Indian cooperation across a wide array of fields. Sample his remark:
“China and India have similar national conditions, development stages and development goals. Both countries can enhance policy dialogues... learn from each other... promote the all-round development of youth...”
Also, on 23 November, Chinese envoy to India Luo Zhaohui had said in a speech that China "can change the name of CPEC" and "create an alternative corridor through Jammu and Kashmir, Nathu La pass or Nepal to deal with India's concerns."
However, China has refused to endorse Luo's statement, indicating that it was being discussed in back-room parleys. This will most likely be at the forefront of Doval-Yang talks.
A ‘Quiet’ Political Deal in the Offing
Sources say that India and China have been quietly working on a political deal: the NSG-BRI swap. As per this deal, China would lift its objection to India becoming a full member of the NSG provided India joins the BRI. The BSG-BRI swap is likely to be discussed by the two SRs.
The SR-level mechanism is likely to witness a major change in terms of its composition, as the incumbent Chinese SR Yang Jiechi, who was earlier ranked several notches higher than the rank of foreign minister but now has an even more exalted status as member of the 25-member politburo, is likely to acquire a more senior position and all set to make way for the new incumbent.
Current Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is likely to become China's new SR for India which means that this may well be the last round of SR-level talks by Yang Jiechi.
(Rajeev Sharma is a strategic analyst and columnist who tweets @Kishkindha. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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