China and India agreed to continue their dialogue and “quickly disengage” from a tense border standoff during a meeting of the countries’ foreign ministers in Russia, according to a joint statement.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and India’s top diplomat, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, agreed that the current situation on the border is not in the interest of either side, according to the statement issued after a meeting Thursday on the sidelines of a regional defence forum in Moscow.
“They agreed therefore that the border troops of both sides should continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions.”
India and China have a lengthy, disputed Himalayan border that has led to several small clashes between their troops in the past decades and a war in 1962 that China won.
The recent escalation of tensions since May in eastern Ladakh region has been the worst in four decades, with casualties and the use of firearms.
Thursday’s meeting between the foreign ministers is being seen as evidence of political will to resolve the latest conflict.
The two ministers are now expected to go back to their political leaderships and have directions issued for comprehensive disengagement at friction points.
Separate comments from the meeting put out by Indian and Chinese media indicated that both countries continued to hold the other responsible for the escalation but acknowledged that it needed to be defused quickly and broader bilateral relations kept in mind.
Wang noted at the meeting that it was normal for China and India to have differences as neighbours but it was important to put this in context of bilateral relations and build mutual trust, Chinese state-run media Xinhua reported.
China-India relations were once again at a crossroads, Wang was reported as saying.
Jaishankar said maintaining peace on the border areas was essential to the development of ties and underlined the urgency of resolving the current situation, India’s state-run television channel Doordarshan reported.
Jaishankar expressed concern at the massing of Chinese troops and equipment along the Line of Actual Control, saying this went against agreements between the two countries and had created flashpoints.
Wang stressed that India needed to stop provocations such as firing off arms and other dangerous actions that violated commitments made by both sides. “It is also important to move back all personnel and equipment that have trespassed,” Xinhua reported Wang as saying.
The meeting came three days after China accused Indian troops of crossing the de facto border known as the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh and firing warning shots, thus breaking an agreement barring the use of firearms.
India rejected the allegations and accused Chinese soldiers of firing in the air.
India and China have differing perceptions of what constitutes the Line of Actual Control that runs through disputed territory on their ill-defined 3,500-kilometre border largely through inhospitable high mountain terrain.
India disputes China’s rule over 38,000 square kilometres of land in Aksai Chin, which it claims to be part of Ladakh region.
China has laid claims to 90,000 square kilometres of territory in Arunachal Pradesh, which it says is part of southern Tibet.
In June, troops from the two countries had their first violent confrontation in 45 years, during which 20 Indian soldiers were killed. Beijing did not release any casualty numbers.
India and China’s defence ministers also met in Moscow on September 4 on the sidelines of the regional summit. Several meetings have taken place between military commanders to defuse the tense situation.
Both sides have intermittently claimed troop withdrawal and disengagement, but reports of skirmishes continue with heavy military deployment by the nuclear-armed neighbours.