A settlement on its way in?

IT is useful to be reminded every now and then that amid all the strife and turbulence of the global scene -- with its various struggles for place or power -- efforts continue to be made to resolve national disputes. Many of these efforts, such as the upcoming US-Soviet summit, dominate newspaper headlines. Others, however, are more quiet -- often taking place with little public notice. One example of the latter is the continuing effort by China and India to build better bridges of understanding between their respective nations.

A number of disputes have clogged the diplomatic pipelines between the two nations, including Southeast Asia, where India is a major aid contributor to Vietnam, which is opposed by China; China's military and trade links to Pakistan, India's traditional archrival in the Indian subcontinent; and, perhaps most important, the long-simmering Sino-Indian border dispute that led to armed warfare between the two sides in 1962.

Last week the two sides held joint discussions in New Delhi on the Himalayan border problem -- the sixth round of mutual talks on the issue since 1981.

The New Delhi discussions followed what had been described as an amicable meeting between Chinese Prime Minister Zhao Ziyang and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in New York last month.

China is occupying some 14,000 square miles of territory between the two sides claimed by India. Peking, meanwhile, has claimed an additional 50,000 square miles of land. Back in 1914 a conference attended by Britain, China, and Tibet set up a boundary line involving the parties. But China repudiated the agreement.

Although last week's talks did not result in a substantive breakthrough on the land claims, the two sides did make some progress. The talks themselves were described as cordial. Discussion focused on the eastern sector of the disputed area.

An eventual resolution of the dispute would be in the interest of both sides. For China, which has had major border disputes with the Soviets, it would ease pressures on its southwestern borders. For India, it would enable New Delhi to turn attention elsewhere, such as Pakistan.

India and China are planning to hold a seventh round of talks in the near future in Peking, in part focusing on the western sector of the disputed area. The mere fact that both sides continue to be eager to come to the bargaining table on the land claims issue is no small achievement, given the pattern of past strife involving the region.

Such talks deserve the support and appreciation of the world community.

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