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India and China’s border dispute will not end anytime soon, former ambassador says

India and China’s ongoing border dispute is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, according to a former Indian ambassador to China.

“It is the reality of two Asian giants coming up close against each other in the Himalayas and the fact that this common border, this boundary between the two countries was never really mutually settled between the two sides,” said Nirupama Rao, who served as India’s ambassador to China between 2006 to 2009.

Though both sides have made earnest attempts to resolve the dispute over several decades, positions in Beijing and New Delhi have hardened and have become less flexible, she told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” on Tuesday.

The latest round of border tensions began 17 months ago following a fatal standoff in the Himalayas. The June 2020 clash in the Galwan Valley in Ladakh killed 20 Indian soldiers and 4 Chinese soldiers.

India and China have since held multiple rounds of military talks to try and fully resolve the dispute.

What’s the latest border dispute about?

Local media reports said that the latest round of talks last month between Indian and Chinese military commanders broke down and each side blamed the other.

It has taken India and China 12 rounds of talks since the clash last June to disengage from several important and contested areas.

An Indian army convoy carries reinforcements and supplies, drive towards Leh, on a highway bordering China, on September 2, 2020 in Gagangir, India.

Yawar Nazir | Stringer | Getty Images

In August, both sides agreed to disengage from Gogra, one of the friction points along the border, pulling back troops to their permanent bases and dismantling all of the temporary structures built in that area. In February, India and China also pulled back troops and weaponry from another contested area, Pangong Lake, reports said.

“There are strong nationalistic forces on both sides contending with each other,” Rao told CNBC.

“I don’t see any side stepping down or stepping back when it comes to compromise on a settlement, which is, of course, an unfortunate reality that we have to contend with,” she said.

Tense situation

While New Delhi and Beijing have called for dialogue and disengagement to ease tensions, some of their subsequent actions have done little to ease fears of further escalation.

For example, Beijing has adopted a new law that goes into effect next January that says China would guard against and combat any act that undermines its territorial sovereignty and land boundaries, according to Chinese state media.

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India said China’s “unilateral decision” was of concern to New Delhi as it could have implications on existing bilateral arrangements on border management and boundaries. An Indian government spokesperson pointed out that the two sides have not yet “resolved the boundary question.”

For its part, India has also reportedly tested a missile that security experts see as a warning shot to China, the Wall Street Journal reported.

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