China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi makes surprise visit to New Delhi

Mr Yi helds talks with Indian counterpart as well as India's national security adviser amid tensions over border dispute

Dr S. Jaishankar, External Affairs Minister of India, meets with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at Hyderabad House. @DrSJaishankar / Twitter

India and China held their highest-level meeting in New Delhi in about two years on Friday after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made a surprise visit to the Indian capital.

Ties between the two Asian countries have been strained since a build-up of troops on their disputed border led to deadly clashes in 2020.

Mr Wang held talks with India's External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and national security adviser Ajit Doval.

Mr Doval told Mr Wang that the complete disengagement of Chinese and Indian troops along the border was crucial to improving relations, sources familiar with the discussions told Reuters.

The two sides were also expected to talk about Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Both consider Russia a friendly nation and have rejected western calls to condemn the invasion, which Moscow calls a special military operation.

Neither side had announced the visit before Mr Wang landed in New Delhi late on Thursday. Footage of his arrival showed him leaving the commercial airport rather than the defence terminal nearby where most foreign dignitaries land.

Mr Wang was rebuked by the Indian government before his trip for remarks made in Pakistan this week concerning Kashmir.

India and Pakistan rule Muslim-majority Kashmir in part but both claim full control over the region. China has generally backed close ally Pakistan.

Mr Wang made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Thursday and met the country’s Taliban leadership in Kabul.

Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Muttaqi greets China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi upon his arrival in Kabul on March 24, 2022. AFP

The foreign ministers of China and India have met in Moscow and Tajikistan over the past two years on the sidelines of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation's meetings.

However, they have not succeeded in ending the military standoff along the mountainous border area in eastern Ladakh region that has profoundly affected their political and economic ties.

A fierce brawl involving hand-to-hand combat, clubs and stones broke out in June 2020, leaving 20 Indian soldiers dead. China said it lost four soldiers.

Both countries have stationed tens of thousands of soldiers backed by artillery, tanks and fighter jets along the de facto border called the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The LAC separates Chinese and Indian-held territories, stretching from Ladakh in the west to India’s eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims in its entirety.

India and China fought a deadly war over the border in 1962.

India says China occupies 38,000 square kilometres of its territory on the Aksai Chin Plateau, which India considers part of Ladakh.

Indian and Chinese army commanders have held 15 meetings in the past two years but the standoff has continued.

Since February last year, both countries have withdrawn troops from some sites on the northern and southern banks of the Pangong Tso Lake, Gogra and Galwan Valley, but they continue to maintain extra personnel.

Beijing has repeatedly said that border standoff does not sum up China-India relations while New Delhi has maintained that peace along the frontier is essential for the two countries to work together.

China is India's largest trading partner. Trade between the two countries stood at $95.02 billion during the 2021-2022 period but the balance was tilted heavily in China's favour.

However, since 2020, New Delhi has tightened the screws on Chinese companies in Asia's third-largest economy by increasing investment and import scrutiny, and imposing bans on some mobile applications.

Last month, India blocked access to dozens of Chinese apps over security concerns, increasing the tally of such restricted apps to more than 300.

With reporting from agencies

Updated: March 25, 2022, 9:15 AM