India and China on Wednesday inked the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA) to avoid face-offs between the two armies on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), like the one in Ladakh in April this year lasting more than 20 days.
The important pact was signed by Defence Secretary RK Mathur and his Chinese counterpart, in the presence of Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Li Keqiang in Beijing. The BDCA entails a hotline between the military headquarters of the two countries akin to a similar arrangement with Pakistan wherein the Directors-General of Military Operations (DGMO) of India and Pakistan are in touch with each other every week to sort out any issues. Incidentally, the offices of the Prime Minister’s of India and China have a hotline.
The pact with China also comprises identifying meeting points between the local commanders in all the sectors of the LAC and not tailing each other’s patrol where there is difference of perception of the LAC among the two armies. The 4,000-km-long LAC is divided into three sectors including Western (Ladakh), Middle (Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh) and Eastern (Arunachal Pradesh).
The two countries signed the pact after tension mounted on the LAC in April when Chinese troops came more than 19 km inside Ladakh in Depsang Valley leading to a face-off between the two armies for more than 20 days. The situation was defused following intervention at the highest diplomatic level. As regards not following or tailing patrols, officials said here the BDCA will ensure that the two countries do not undertake aggressive patrolling which often leads to tension on the LAC. The pact also says that in case a doubtful situation at the border arises either side has a right to seek a clarification from the other.
It also stipulates that the two countries agree that if the border defence forces of the two sides come to a face-to-face situation in areas of no common understanding, both sides exercise maximum restraint, refrain from any provocative action and not use force or threaten to use force against each other, treat each other with courtesy and prevent exchange of fire or armed conflict.
The BDCA, which outlined a series of procedures to be followed by the two countries along the LAC, also facilitates exchange of information about military exercises, aircraft, demolition operations, unmarked mines and taking consequent measures conducive to the maintenance of peace along the LAC.
Explaining the salient features of the BDCA, Indian Ambassador to China S Jaishankar told the media in Beijing that the agreement does not hinder the development of infrastructure on the Indian side of the border. India is engaged in rapid development of infrastructure along several strategic areas in the North-East and Ladakh, facing China including building roads and airfields. These projects were undertaken as China has already developed its military infrastructure in these areas. It has a distinct advantage over India in case of hostilities as it can rush troops and other logistical supplies.
India also raised the issue of Beijing giving stapled visas to two sportspersons from Arunachal Pradesh which China lays claim over and considers “disputed”. Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, briefing newspersons, said “the stapled visa issue did come up”. The issuance of stapled visas had adversely affected China’s efforts to get India to agree to a liberalised visa regime for its businesspersons. The Indian cabinet, which was to approve an agreement on liberal visa agreement with Beijing ahead of the Prime Minister’s visit, postponed the decision after the stapled visa incident, sources said.
India also raised its concerns about China planning to build nuclear reactors in Pakistan. Foreign Secretary Singh said the issue did figure but declined to elaborate. Meanwhile, India and China also signed a new agreement to strengthen cooperation on trans-border rivers aimed at allaying India’s concerns over new dams on the Brahmaputra and facilitating the exchange of flood data.
Under the new pact, the Chinese side agreed to provide more flood data regarding the Brahmaputra from May to October instead of June to October that has been agreed upon in previous river water pacts in 2008 and 2010. India has been expressing concerns over China’s plans to construct more dams which New Delhi fears could restrict the flow of the Himalayan river flowing from Tibet. China assured India that its dams are run of the river projects not designed to hold water.
In addition to the river water agreement, India and China inked several agreements on establishment of Nalanda University at Rajgir in Bihar for which China is one of the participating countries. The two sides also signed agreements to strengthen the cultural exchange programme, Cooperation in Road Transport and Highways, Chinese power equipment service centres in India and agreements to establishing sister city relationships between Delhi-Beijing and Bangalore and Chengdu and Kolkata and Kunming.