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22 Dec 2017

India-China border talks and war: Here is how it all began

After his talks with prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru i 1960 failed to resolve differences, Chinese premier Zhou Enlai held a late night press conference in New Delhi.(REUTERS FILE)
Sutirtho Patranobis, HT, , Beijing, 21 December 2017: Dozens of rounds of talks on the border have preceded the one that Indian and Chinese diplomats will hold in New Delhi on Friday under the special representatives (SR) mechanism.

Possibly the first formal discussion on the boundary was held between Chinese premier Zhou Enlai and India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru over a week in April, 1960, in New Delhi.  

Late on the night of April 25, Zhou held a press conference in New Delhi after capping nearly a week of discussions with Nehru on the boundary question.

The talks had failed to resolve differences. The conclusion instead was that India and China should start negotiating on the border and clarify their respective positions with evidence and historical documents.

Several Indian and foreign journalists were present at the unusually late night press conference that lasted from 10:45 pm to 1 am.

Zhou took several questions on the boundary dispute, which had emerged as a key point in the increasingly tense ties between the two neighbours.  

Earlier in the day, a joint communique had been released on the discussions between Nehru and Zhou.

“The two PMs explained fully their respective stands on the problems affecting the border areas. This led to a greater understanding of the views of the two governments, but the talks did not result in resolving the differences that had arisen,” the communique said.

“The two PMs, therefore, agreed that officials of the two governments should meet and examine, check and study all historical documents, records, accounts, maps and other material relevant to the boundary question, which each side relied upon in support of its stand, and draw up a report for submission to the two governments,” it added.

Two more rounds of discussions were held in 1960, one in Beijing and one more in then Rangoon in present-day Myanmar.

The discussions produced voluminous reports which experts from both countries were poring over when in late in 1962, war broke out, stalling any opportunity for formal talks on the border for nearly two decades.

When Zhou flew out of New Delhi on April 26, 1960, he was the last senior Chinese official to do so – till 1981.

Hopes for formal talks were rekindled when Chinese foreign minister Huang Hua visited New Delhi in June, 1981 and met then prime minister Indira Gandhi.

The first round took place in Beijing in December.

“The two sides expressed common aspirations for the settlement of the Chinese-Indian border problem and the development of relations between the two countries and reached identical views on procedural matters,'' official news agency Xinhua said in a report on the talks.

Seven more rounds of talks were held between 1981and 1987.

The border negotiations got a boost after then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to China in 1988.

Following his visit, talks resumed under the newly formed joint working group (JWG) mechanism.

As many as 15 rounds of negotiations were held under the JWG mechanism between 1988 and 2003.

The talks were rebooted to the current special representative (SR) mechanism in 2003 after prime minister AB Vajpayee’s China visit.

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