The boundary question between China and India has been an important and lingering question in Asian history.
The painful memory of the border skirmishes between the two neighbors in 1962, which led to a serious setback in bilateral relations, is still fresh in the minds of people in both countries.
The Sino-Indian boundary has never been formally delineated, although a traditional frontier exists between the two nations which can be divided into eastern, middle and western sections.
In the eastern section, India has held that the so-called MacMahon Line should be its border with China. China, however, insists that line, the result of a secret deal between representatives of Britain and the Chinese Tibetan local authorities in the Simla Conference in Delhi on March 24, 1914, is illegal and invalid because Tibet, a part of China's territory, had no power to sign any treaty with a foreign country.
Consequently, the illegal and invalid line has never been recognized by successive Chinese governments since its creation and even Britain did not draw it on its maps. India gradually occupied large tracts of Chinese territory south of this line between 1951 and 1953.
In the western section, India has made a territorial demand for the mainly Aksai Chin area of Xinjiang and a part of the Ali area in Tibet, while the two areas have always been under China's administration. In the middle section, India has made claims on about 2,000 square kilometers of territory which has always belonged to China.
Tension arose between China and India following the 1959 rebellion in Tibet, and their differences over the boundary question also re-surfaced, which led to a further deterioration of situations in the border areas.
The 1962 border skirmishes demonstrated the two countries at that time lacked experience in handling the complicated border issue and ever since they have expressed wishes for reconciliation.
Sino-Indian relations have witnessed gradual restoration and improvement since the two countries reestablished diplomatic ties in 1976. Those ties were further advanced by then Indian Foreign Minister Vajpayee's visit to China in 1979 and Chinese Foreign Minister Huang Hua's visit to India. Chinese then Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping said during his meeting with Vajpayee that the two countries should try to seek common ground while putting aside differences, and the boundary issue should be resolved through peaceful consultations based upon mutual understanding.
But at that time no breakthrough was achieved between the two countries because India did not accept China's proposals.
The resumption of high-level exchanges between the two countries became an important turning point in Sino-Indian relations following Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's historic visit to China in 1988. During that visit the two sides agreed to settle the complicated border demarcation in a peaceful and friendly way and to set up a joint working group for that purpose. Both nations also agreed to develop bilateral relations in other fields to create a good atmosphere and conditions for a fair and reasonable settlement of the long-standing border issue.
To that end, the two countries agreed to ensure peace and tranquility along the line of actual control (LAC) as the first step to make preparations for the final settlement.
An agreement to maintain peace and tranquility along the LAC in China-India border areas, signed during Indian Prime Minister Narasimha Rao's visit to China in 1993 and an agreement on confidence building measures in the military field along the LAC signed during former Chinese President Jiang Zemin's visit to India both contributed greatly to peace and stability along the border areas.
In the joint declaration signed during Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee's visit to China in June 2003, the two countries established the principles for bilateral relations and opened a wide prospect for continuous promotion of mutual trust and cooperation. They have also made significant progress on questions left over by history such as the Tibet issue.
Vajpayee's visit has been widely hailed as the one that ushered in an overall and steady development of bilateral relations.
In the declaration, both countries agreed to appoint a special representative to explore a basic framework for the boundary settlement from the perspective of the overall bilateral relationship.
Demonstrating both sides' new resolution to settle the border dispute, the signing of the document signaled an encouraging development of bilateral relations.
Through several rounds of talks, both China and India have already acknowledged the complicated nature of the border issue and have adopted a more realistic and more self-restrained attitude.
The two countries have agreed to take the principle of mutual understanding, mutual accommodation and mutual adjustment of their original territorial demands as the guiding principle for resolving the dispute.
If the leaderships of the two countries are willing to take a firm decision to put forward the border demarcation talks under such a spirit, it will be possible to realize the final settlement of the border issue in the near future and thus open a new and broader prospect for friendly relations between the two countries.
The transient difficulty in bilateral talks should not become an obstacle for the further development of bilateral ties.
The established resolve from the two sides to continuously maintain peace and tranquility in border areas along the LAC should be carried on to develop more vigorous bilateral ties and create better conditions for the final settlement of the border issue in the future.
(China Daily April 19, 2004)