China, India Agree Again to Ease Tension on Himalayan Border
Source: External Affairs Ministry

China, India Agree Again to Ease Tension on Himalayan Border

India and China pledged to de-escalate tensions along their disputed Himalayan border after their foreign ministers met Thursday for the first time since May when the stand-off began.

Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, agreed that “the current situation in the border area is not in the interests of both sides,” according to a joint statement after a meeting on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Moscow.

The nations “should abide by the existing border affairs agreements and regulations, maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas, and avoid any actions that may escalate the situation,” they said.

India and China have been increasing their troop strength along the 3,488-kilometer (2,167-mile) border known as the Line of Actual Control since May. The military standoff, in which gunshots were fired this week for the first time since 1975, remains unresolved despite multiple rounds of negotiations between commanders and diplomats and two phone calls between Wang and Jaishankar.

The latest skirmishes came just days after Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and his Chinese counterpart, General Wei Fenghe, agreed to ease tensions following “frank and in-depth discussions” in Moscow.

The border clashes have led to deteriorating economic ties, with India limiting Chinese investments, tightening scrutiny on visas and moving to keep Huawei Technologies Co. out of 5G networks. India last week banned 118 Chinese apps including Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s popular PUBG Mobile Lite game and payments-service Alipay, following up on its June restrictions on several applications including ByteDance Ltd.’s viral short-video service TikTok.

Differences worsened after India, in its first offensive move since the conflict began, moved thousands of soldiers to mountain peaks to claim vantage points along the south bank of Pangong Tso -- a glacial lake roughly the size of Singapore -- to counter what it views as an intrusion by Chinese forces.

The decision to capture high ground that was previously unoccupied revived tensions that had cooled since June when 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese troops were killed in brutal hand-to-hand combat.

“The two foreign ministers agreed that as the situation eases, the two sides should speed up the completion of new mutual trust-building measures to maintain and enhance peace and tranquility in the border area,” they said in the statement.

China separately said it was “willing to support enhanced dialogue between the frontier troops on both sides to resolve specific issues.”

Given the events of the last few months “I suspect the best thing to do is: wait and watch” and “believe it when you see it,” tweeted Tanvi Madan, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington and author of “Fateful Triangle: How China Shaped US-India Relations during the Cold War.”

On Saturday, China said that the Indian soldiers must stick to commitments, and that a repeat of the shooting incidents must be avoided, according to a foreign ministry statement that cited Wang.

China said India should withdraw its troops as soon as possible and thoroughly as the “basis” to advance ongoing negotiations, the statement quoted Wang as saying.

India is seeking the return of Chinese troops to their previous posts, according to an official with knowledge of the discussions who asked not to be identified, citing rules on speaking with the media. The Chinese side did not provide a credible explanation for their changed deployment along the LAC, especially Ladakh, over the past months, the Indian official said.

Meanwhile, China will soon release five Indians detained earlier after crossing the border, Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the party’s Global Times newspaper, wrote in a post on social media Saturday. The group comprises intelligence workers disguised as hunters, according to the post. Hu’s social-media comments are closely watched as they have in the past preceded official Chinese government announcements.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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