Observers unanimously believe that the most important of the documents signed during the visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Beijing is the agreement on cross-border cooperation. It is intended to eliminate or at least drastically reduce the likelihood of recurrence of incidents like the one that occurred earlier this year in Ladakh. However, many other controversial issues on bilateral cooperation (including cross-border ) remain in limbo. In this regard, the question arises: is the agreement the first step on the long road to normalization of the complex relationship or simply an attempt to " blow off steam " for one of the most painful problems between the two countries?
Commentary by Boris Volkhonsky, an expert with the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies.
World experience shows that the border between the states can play two roles that are mutually exclusive : either be an insurmountable barrier in the relationship, or a powerful incentive for their development. The border between India and China seems to follow the first option. And it's not only the terrain, although it plays an important role: the Himalayan mountain range creates enormous difficulties for the construction of infrastructure to connect the two countries .
The political factors related to the failure to resolve contentious issues are much more important. Chief among them are the continued occupation of Aksai Chin by China and Chinese claims to the territory of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China called Southern Tibet . The unresolved border issues have led to a direct military conflict in 1962 and periodically cause local conflicts such as the one which occurred about six months ago in Ladakh, when a group of Chinese soldiers intruded into the territory of India and a collision was avoided only with difficulty.
Border issues are forcing both sides to heighten the pace of defense infrastructure on both sides of the border - continues Boris Volkhonsky - and work out techniques of warfare in mountainous conditions . They also contribute to a negative perception of the image of a neighbor by the public opinion and a part of the expert community in each country. Today, when politicians of India live mainly with thoughts about the upcoming elections in the spring of 2014, it is seen very clearly . The opposition never misses an opportunity to criticize Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for being "spineless" and to accuse him of indecision in regard to China . Obviously, for this part of the opposition, armed response to the invasion of Chinese troops in Ladakh and an attempt to take revenge for the defeat in the war of 1962 (the 50th anniversary of which was celebrated last year ) appear to be more appropriate course of action than the negotiation process.
In this context, the fact of the agreement on the prevention of such incidents is definitely a positive development, - said Boris Volkhonsky . - However, it is clearly inadequate : none of the major problems of border relations have been eliminated, the preconditions for the recurrence of such incidents remain.
And so the main question, the answer to which will be known in the immediate future, is whether there will be a sequel. It is important to note that by the next spring power in India will change hands, the objective reality will still dictate the need to move away from confrontation towards cooperation on a whole range of border issues. This reality is both of economic nature, as well as political .
Among the factors of a political nature is the radically changing balance of power in the vast region covering almost the whole of Asia . It is hardly accidental that during the visit of Manmohan Singh to Moscow and Beijing, Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif visited Washington, where there were signals about the willingness of both parties to radically improve relations - says Boris Volkhonsky . - It is clear that the US -Pakistani rapprochement will force India to look for at least a trusting relationship, if not directly forge an alliance, with the other influential neighbor.
The same applies to China . And when you consider the festering territorial disputes on its eastern borders with its neighbors in the South China and East China Seas, it is possible to conclude that life itself is pushing China and India to converge. And this is in the long-term interests of both sides.