India, China on verge of border defence pact

India, China on verge of border defence pact
An Indian soldier standing guard at Bumla pass, on the border between India and China in Arunachal Pradesh. China lays claims to more than 90,000 sq km of land in the eastern sector but India disputes this, saying China occupies 38,000 sq km of territory on the Aksai Chin plateau.

NEW DELHI - India and China are close to an agreement to end tension on their contested border as they try to figure out a way to break a decades-old stalemate on overlapping claims to long stretches of the Himalayas.

The border defence cooperation pact that diplomats are racing to finalise ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to China next week is a small step forward in a complicated relationship marked by booming economic ties but also growing distrust.

Earlier this year, in May, the two armies ended a three-week stand-off in the western Himalayas after Chinese troops set up a camp at least 10km inside territory claimed by India. That triggered a public outcry, and calls for India to stand up to its powerful neighbour.

China denied that troops had crossed into Indian territory.

Under the new agreement, the two nuclear-armed countries will give notice of patrols along the ill-defined border. They will ensure patrols do not "tail" each other, to reduce the chance of confrontation.

The two armies, spread out along the 4,000km border from the high-altitude Ladakh plateau in the west to the jungles of Arunachal Pradesh in the east, have also agreed to set up a hotline between top-ranking officers, in addition to existing brigade-level contacts.

"The key issue is maintaining peace and tranquillity on the border," said an Indian government official. The border defence cooperation agreement is built on existing confidence-building measures and is designed to ensure that patrolling along the Line of Actual Control - as the unsettled border is called - does not escalate into an unintended skirmish, he said.

"Barring last-minute problems, there should be an agreement. It's a question of crossing the t's and dotting the i's," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

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