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Big guns take a shot at China tangle

New Delhi, Oct. 23: India and China today began two-day talks here on the decades-old border dispute, showing urgency to find an early solution to the tangle that has marred bilateral relations.

The special representatives of the two countries, national security adviser Brajesh Mishra and Chinese senior vice-foreign minister Dai Bingguo, kicked off the talks along with their teams.

Their nomination shows both countries are now willing to give the required political push to the talks to ensure red-tapism does not come in the way as it has in the past.

The joint working group, set up by the two countries to find a solution to the dispute, has met 14 times, but has always failed to achieve a major breakthrough.

Dai’s seven-member team included the Chinese ambassador, Hua Junduo, Beijing’s director-general from the Asia department, Fu Ying, and his counterpart from the policy study department, Cui Tiantai, and other senior officials. Mishra was assisted by Ashok Kant, joint secretary in the foreign ministry’s East Asia division, and other senior South Block officials.

The decision to raise the meeting to the level of special representatives was taken during the Prime Minister’s visit to China in June when A.B. Vajpayee and his Chinese counterpart, Wen Jiabao, agreed that the dispute needed an early settlement. The two leaders met again in Bali this month during a summit-level dialogue with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Hours before the Bali meeting, China told India it had stopped showing Sikkim as a separate country on its foreign ministry’s website. Though the change has not yet been reflected in China’s official maps, the move showed Beijing was taking steps to recognise Sikkim as part of India. China has been questioning India’s “illegal annexation” of Sikkim since 1975.

Mishra and Dai are expected to work out a “pragmatic and mutually acceptable” approach to the border issue. Senior Indian officials said much depends on the acceptability of the proposal Dai is carrying with him. No details of the talks were available as sources said it could work only if not made public now.

The dispute is over 125,000 sq. km, divided into the western, middle and eastern sectors. So far, India and China have exchanged maps only on the middle sector, believed to be the least contentious area. The 1962 war broke out after China occupied 38,000 sq. km in the remote Aksai Chin plateau on the western part, using it to build a road into Tibet. India called the occupation illegal.

Delhi says Beijing is also illegally holding 5,180 sq. km of north Kashmir ceded to it by Pakistan in 1963. China also lays claim to 90,000 sq. km on the eastern sector in Arunachal Pradesh.

Although both countries signed a landmark treaty in 1993 to maintain peace and stability on the Line of Actual Control, there is still no agreement on the line’s location.

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