REGIONAL CONCERNS

First India-China border talks under Modi likely to make progress on Line of Actual Control

With strongmen leading both countries, discussions that begin on Monday could get a fresh impetus.

With two political strongmen, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, at the helm of their billion-plus nations, prospects of the two countries finally getting down to working towards settling their vexed boundary dispute have increased.


National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, as India’s special representative, sits across the table from China’s state councillor, Yang Jiechi at the imposing Hyderabad House in New Delhi on Monday for the 18th round of boundary talks. The Chinese leader will also be calling on PM Modi on March 24 morning.


The importance of this round lies in the fact that it will be the first one to be held by the Modi government, which is working towards an even tighter strategic clinch with the US than the previous Manmohan Singh regime. As New Delhi and Washington move closer, a sense of uneasiness prevails over this in Beijing.

Even as it bitterly jostles with its neighbours in the contentious South China Sea, China is getting increasingly worried about the ongoing American rebalancing of forces towards the Asia-Pacific region. It will need to keep its borders with India calm and peaceful.

Modi, who is slated to visit China in May, would of course like to brandish a breakthrough with China to top off his continuing focus on foreign policy since he took charge last year. Equally, Xi Jinping, who is now two years into his presidency, too can play an important role in moving a step forward on the boundary issue.

Testing waters

But we should not expect miracles.

The long-standing dispute over the 4,057-km long Line of Actual Control is too complex to be resolved in the near future, even if Modi and Xi show extraordinary political will. A resolution would require both the Indian Elephant and the Chinese Dragon to be ready for concessions and compromises.

This is easier said than done when it involves the competing claims over thousands of square kilometres of territory form two Asian giants who are geo-strategic rivals in the region and beyond. For instance, If China claims the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, spread over 90,000 sq km, India wants to reclaim the Aksai Chin area in Jammu spread over 38,000 sq km.

The two sides will primarily use the opportunity to test the waters and gauge each other, especially in the backdrop of China dealing with a new, stronger, right-wing Indian government this time. It will also have to reckon with a new SR in Doval, who unlike his predecessor Shiv Shankar Menon is no China expert.

The two sides could then work to give it final shape for it to be a substantive outcome when Modi visits Beijing in May. Modi stressed this need for clarification of the LAC to ensure “peace and tranquillity on the border” to “realise the potential of our relations” when Xi visited India in September last year.

Stuck at the second step

After the SRs kicked off their first round of talks in October 2004, India and China did manage to ink the ‘Agreement on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for Settlement of the Boundary Question’ the very next year.

This was the step one of the three-stage roadmap drawn up by the two sides. However, in the decade since, the two have not been able to work out step two, which entails a framework agreement for a boundary settlement.

They have not even been able to exchange maps for the western sector (Ladakh) and eastern sector (Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh) of the LAC, with Beijing dragging its feet on this critical step. The only exchange of maps that has taken place is for the least contentious middle sector (Uttarakhand, Himachal) over a decade ago.

The third and final step of the SR mechanism would be to provide the basis for the delineation and demarcation of the India-China boundary.

As the discussions to resolve the dispute have proceeded at a snail’s place, China has assiduously built and upgraded its military infrastructure all along the LAC over the past decade. Jolted out of its stupor, India is only now trying to play catch up.

In the absence of a clearly demarcated boundary, soldiers from both sides repeatedly cross the LAC to strengthen claims to disputed areas leading to frequent troop face-offs and confrontations.

Chinese incursions

In April-May 2013, for instance, the 19-km deep incursion by the People’s Liberation Army into the Depsang Valley in the Daulat Beg Oldi sector of eastern Ladakh led to a 21-day stand-off between the two armies. It even threatened to derail then PM Manmohan Singh’s impending China visit but was eventually resolved in time for him to go ahead as planned.

The episode led the two countries to finalise the ‘Border Defence Co-operation Agreement’ to defuse troop face-offs. The story, however, was repeated, with another prolonged confrontation in the Chumar sector of eastern Ladakh last September, which coincided with Xi’s visit to India.

But in both the incidents, as in other confrontations over the years, not a bullet was fired from either side.  This augurs well for the management of the border dispute. But what is now needed is its resolution to rid the two countries of the continuing problem bedeviling their bilateral ties.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Relying on the power of habits to solve India’s mammoth sanitation problem

Adopting three simple habits can help maximise the benefits of existing sanitation infrastructure.

India’s sanitation problem is well documented – the country was recently declared as having the highest number of people living without basic sanitation facilities. Sanitation encompasses all conditions relating to public health - especially sewage disposal and access to clean drinking water. Due to associated losses in productivity caused by sickness, increased healthcare costs and increased mortality, India recorded a loss of 5.2% of its GDP to poor sanitation in 2015. As tremendous as the economic losses are, the on-ground, human consequences of poor sanitation are grim - about one in 10 deaths, according to the World Bank.

Poor sanitation contributes to about 10% of the world’s disease burden and is linked to even those diseases that may not present any correlation at first. For example, while lack of nutrition is a direct cause of anaemia, poor sanitation can contribute to the problem by causing intestinal diseases which prevent people from absorbing nutrition from their food. In fact, a study found a correlation between improved sanitation and reduced prevalence of anaemia in 14 Indian states. Diarrhoeal diseases, the most well-known consequence of poor sanitation, are the third largest cause of child mortality in India. They are also linked to undernutrition and stunting in children - 38% of Indian children exhibit stunted growth. Improved sanitation can also help reduce prevalence of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Though not a cause of high mortality rate, NTDs impair physical and cognitive development, contribute to mother and child illness and death and affect overall productivity. NTDs caused by parasitic worms - such as hookworms, whipworms etc. - infect millions every year and spread through open defecation. Improving toilet access and access to clean drinking water can significantly boost disease control programmes for diarrhoea, NTDs and other correlated conditions.

Unfortunately, with about 732 million people who have no access to toilets, India currently accounts for more than half of the world population that defecates in the open. India also accounts for the largest rural population living without access to clean water. Only 16% of India’s rural population is currently served by piped water.

However, there is cause for optimism. In the three years of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the country’s sanitation coverage has risen from 39% to 65% and eight states and Union Territories have been declared open defecation free. But lasting change cannot be ensured by the proliferation of sanitation infrastructure alone. Ensuring the usage of toilets is as important as building them, more so due to the cultural preference for open defecation in rural India.

According to the World Bank, hygiene promotion is essential to realise the potential of infrastructure investments in sanitation. Behavioural intervention is most successful when it targets few behaviours with the most potential for impact. An area of public health where behavioural training has made an impact is WASH - water, sanitation and hygiene - a key issue of UN Sustainable Development Goal 6. Compliance to WASH practices has the potential to reduce illness and death, poverty and improve overall socio-economic development. The UN has even marked observance days for each - World Water Day for water (22 March), World Toilet Day for sanitation (19 November) and Global Handwashing Day for hygiene (15 October).

At its simplest, the benefits of WASH can be availed through three simple habits that safeguard against disease - washing hands before eating, drinking clean water and using a clean toilet. Handwashing and use of toilets are some of the most important behavioural interventions that keep diarrhoeal diseases from spreading, while clean drinking water is essential to prevent water-borne diseases and adverse health effects of toxic contaminants. In India, Hindustan Unilever Limited launched the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, a WASH behaviour change programme, to complement the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Through its on-ground behaviour change model, SASB seeks to promote the three basic WASH habits to create long-lasting personal hygiene compliance among the populations it serves.

This touching film made as a part of SASB’s awareness campaign shows how lack of knowledge of basic hygiene practices means children miss out on developmental milestones due to preventable diseases.

Play

SASB created the Swachhata curriculum, a textbook to encourage adoption of personal hygiene among school going children. It makes use of conceptual learning to teach primary school students about cleanliness, germs and clean habits in an engaging manner. Swachh Basti is an extensive urban outreach programme for sensitising urban slum residents about WASH habits through demos, skits and etc. in partnership with key local stakeholders such as doctors, anganwadi workers and support groups. In Ghatkopar, Mumbai, HUL built the first-of-its-kind Suvidha Centre - an urban water, hygiene and sanitation community centre. It provides toilets, handwashing and shower facilities, safe drinking water and state-of-the-art laundry operations at an affordable cost to about 1,500 residents of the area.

HUL’s factory workers also act as Swachhata Doots, or messengers of change who teach the three habits of WASH in their own villages. This mobile-led rural behaviour change communication model also provides a volunteering opportunity to those who are busy but wish to make a difference. A toolkit especially designed for this purpose helps volunteers approach, explain and teach people in their immediate vicinity - their drivers, cooks, domestic helps etc. - about the three simple habits for better hygiene. This helps cast the net of awareness wider as regular interaction is conducive to habit formation. To learn more about their volunteering programme, click here. To learn more about the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hindustan Unilever and not by the Scroll editorial team.