China, India sign new pact to reduce risk of border conflict

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (second left) shakes hands with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (right) during a welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct 23, 2013. China and India took a small step towards improving
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (second left) shakes hands with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (right) during a welcoming ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct 23, 2013. China and India took a small step towards improving mutual trust when they signed a pact on Wednesday to reduce the risk of conflict along their disputed border. -- PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - China and India took a small step towards improving mutual trust when they signed a pact on Wednesday to reduce the risk of conflict along their disputed border.

The signing of the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement took place at China's Great Hall Of The People on Wednesday morning, where Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has come to Beijing from Moscow.

The pact adds to previous pacts signed to decrease the chances of clashes. Under the new agreement, ground rules will be set for situations when patrol guards from both sides come into contact with each other. They will be barred, for instance, from tailing soldiers from the other side in case they cross the border, the Hindustan Times reported on Tuesday. The pact also calls for a hotline between top ranking officers of both sides.

"When India and China shake hands, the world notices," Dr Singh said, addressing the importance of Sino-India ties.

In total, the two leaders witnessed the signing of nine pacts in areas like energy, transport and culture cooperation on Wednesday.

Tensions had risen as recently as April this year when Chinese troops entered 19km into disputed territory claimed by India in Ladakh's Depsang Valley and stayed for 21 days before leaving.

China and India fought a brief war along their 4,057-km border in 1962, a clash which still scars relations between the two Asian giants, which together account for nearly 40 per cent of the world's 7.2 billion people.

While two-way trade has grown over the last decade to about US$67 billion (S$83 billion) last year, both sides still view each other with considerable unease.

Besides the border dispute, they also do not see eye to eye on issues like India's shelter of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, or China's close ties with Pakistan.

China's new leadership, however, has shown a greater openness to discuss mutual differences.

Premier Li had said both countries did not deny that problems existed between them when he visited India in May, in his first foreign trip since taking up his new post in March.

He had then invited Dr Singh to visit China, making it the first time since 1954 that prime ministers from both sides had exchanged visits in the same year, said a spokesman of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday.

Both sides are expected to sign agreements on investment and industrial parks during Dr Singh's visit, which ends on Thursday.

The Indian leader, who is known to focus fully on serious business on work trips, will also tour the Forbidden City on Wednesday afternoon at the suggestion of Mr Li, who will accompany him.

He is slated to give a speech on Thursday at China's Central Party School before wrapping up his visit.