Ahead of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to New Delhi in mid-December, India and China are holding border talks for the 14th time, amid heightened tensions and after a gap of one year.
India and China share a border that is almost 4,000 kilometers long
India and China share an almost 4,000-kilometer long border. China has staked claims to Aksai Chin in the Ladakh region and Arunachal Pradesh, which Beijing refers to as southern Tibet.
During this new round of talks, India is hoping that China will address the issuing of stapled visas by Chinese officials for residents of Jammu and Kashmir on the ground that the territory is disputed, which as been a serious bone of contention between the two sides.
However, China expert Srikanth Kondapali of the Centre for East Asian Studies is not hopeful about the outcome of the talks and says there has been a change of course.
"China in the 1980s and 90s suggested that the Kashmir dispute was a bilateral dispute but that the two countries should resolve this dispute peacefully, and both countries should respect the Line of Control. These positions appear to have been revised now with China's active role in Kashmir, physically and in terms of policy."
There are always smiles when the leaders of India and China meet but the border dispute rankles behind the scenes
Bringing new energy to a slow process
Although India and China launched discussions to resolve the border dispute in 1980, progress has been slow. The process received some impetus after the two countries agreed to hold talks by designated special representatives.
Ex-Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon is expected to bring new energy into the current efforts to resolve the complex boundary dispute as he shares a good bond with the top Chinese leadership and has spent a considerable part of his diplomatic career in Beijing. He also speaks fluent Mandarin.
Varaprasad Shekhar from Jawaharlal Nehru University points out it will help neither side to have a confrontationist attitude. "Instead of looking at these issues from a very narrow perspective, we need to see the larger picture and try to see how we can resolve the situation. I think India and China must walk on the path of peace."
A host of other issues including India's concerns over China's plans to build a dam over Brahmaputra River and the reported presence of Chinese personnel for various projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir were expected to figure in the two-day talks.
Fourth round of strategic dialogue
The two countries also held the fourth round of strategic dialogue as part of a wider consultative process to prepare for the visit of Premier Wen. "The strategic dialogue process was stalled for various reasons. India and China have had three strategic dialogues so far. It includes everything under the sky – bilateral relations, regional security issues and global aspects," said Kondapali.
Tawang Monastery is in the north-eastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which is also claimed by China
The endorsement of India's candidature for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council by US President Barrack Obama during his recent visit means that China is now the only one of the five veto-wielding members of the United Nations Security Council to not yet have taken a stand on the issue. The other four have tentatively indicated their support.
Whether Premier Wen Jiabao makes a statement close to the US position will be keenly watched during his visit.
Author: Murali Krishnan
Editor: Arun Chowdhury