NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India and China have agreed to try to avoid flare-ups along their disputed 4,000-km border through the Himalayas, a positive development in often fractious relations between Asia’s emerging giants.
The two countries, which fought a brief but bloody border war in 1962, have increased their military presence on each side of the border in recent years as their fast-growing economies permit more spending on defense of remote regions.
Under an agreement signed on Tuesday, high-level diplomats and military officials will aim at “timely communication” about border incidents and meet once or twice a year.
“Its main task is to deal with affairs concerning maintaining the peace and tranquility of the border area,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said at a briefing on Wednesday.
However, the two countries are still a long way from agreeing on their territory -- China says most of India’s Arunachal Pradesh state is part of Tibet. For its part, India claims China’s isolated Aksai Chin plateau near Kashmir as its own.
“Both sides reiterated that before the border issue is resolved, they will together strive to preserve the peace and tranquility of the border,” Liu said.
Shyam Saran, a former foreign secretary for India, said the pact was a sign the two sides wanted to better manage ties as they grow and compete for resources and allies in Asia and beyond.
“The two countries are emerging powers, whose respective strategic profiles are intersecting at multiple points,” Saran wrote in a column in the Business Standard newspaper.
China’s close relationship with India’s main rival Pakistan, -- as well as other neighbors such as Sri Lanka, Myanmar Bangladesh and Nepal -- has given an urgency to New Delhi’s strategy of forging ties with Washington, Japan and Australia, along with Southeast Asian nations.
“On the Chinese side there is concern that its more assertive posture of the past couple of years had triggered a rapid and continuing build up of countervailing coalitions in the strategic Indo-Pacific theatre,” Saran said.
Swaran Singh, an expert on Indo-Chinese relations at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the pact gave momentum to future talks but its relevance would depend on the wider relationship.
“For 25 years, India and Pakistan have had a hot line and the generals are supposed to ask each other what they had for breakfast,” Singh said. “But when the relationship is bad, nobody picks up the phone.”
Reporting By Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Nick Macfie