India and China will hold another round of boundary talks in New Delhi on Friday (Dec 22), in the first parleys under the special representative mechanism since the 73-day Doklam standoff.
Crisis management at the border, operationalising a hotline between the militaries and continuing discussions on clarifying the line of actual control (LAC) could be in focus when Chinese and Indian diplomats meet for the 20th round of SR-level talks.
State councillor Yang Jiechi will lead a team of diplomats to New Delhi to meet his designated counterpart for the talks, Indiaâ€™s national security advisor AK Doval.
â€œThe SR meeting is not only a high-level channel for the border issue discussion but also the platform for strategic communication. This also allows the two sides to exchange views on the international and regional issues of major concern,â€ Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said on Tuesday (Dec 20).
China and India institutionalised the SR mechanism in 2003, envisaging it as a three-step process.
New Delhi and Beijing reached an agreement on guiding principles and setting political parameters for a settlement in 2005. The two neighbours are now negotiating the second phase of working out a settlement framework, and the final step will be drawing a border line based on the framework agreement.
The 73-day military standoff at Doklam (Donglang) near the Sikkim border earlier this year will remain a big reference point at the discussion.
Thatâ€™s despite the fact that foreign minister Wang Yi had a detailed discussion about it earlier this month in New Delhi with external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj.
â€œIn 2017, China-India relations have maintained a good momentum generally but the Doklam incident posed a major test for the two countries. We should learn lessons from this incident to avoid any further conflict of this kind in the future,â€ Hua said.
She added: â€œWe should follow our historical conventions on the border to uphold the tranquility and peace in the border region as well as safeguard of the larger picture of the India-China relations.â€
The talks in New Delhi this week will continue from the 10th round of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC), initiated in 2012 to maintain peace along the disputed border, held in Beijing in November.
Post-Donglang, discussions on the border could take a two-pronged approach, Hu Shisheng , director of the Institute of South and Southeast Asian and Oceania Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told Hindustan Times.
â€œIn the settled sections, especially in the Sikkim section where the border has no dispute, we can promote physical connect, peopleâ€™s interactions and trade and engagement. In the unsettled areas, crisis management is very, very important. It is unrealistic to expect a settlement in the near future, so crisis management is very important,â€ Hu said.
During and after Doklam standoff, China had maintained that the Sikkim section of the border has been settled under the 1890 agreement between British India and Chinaâ€™s Qing dynasty.
â€œThe bilateral ties after the Donglang standoff are in critical juncture. If both sides donâ€™t make further efforts, bilateral ties will further go down,â€ Hu said.
Lan Jianxue, expert on India at the China Institute of International Studies, agreed.
â€œChina and India relations are in a critical time now, very difficult time right now. But I think it (the talks) provide an opportunity for both sides to talk to each other and to defuse the intense atmosphere between the two countries, ease the atmosphere,â€ Lan said.
â€œThe most important issue is to ease the intense atmosphere, not allowing bilateral ties to free fall,â€ Lan said.