India and China seek to 'peacefully resolve' border standoff

Military commanders from both sides held talks on Saturday amid troop build-up in Ladakh region

This combination of two satellite photos of the Ngari Günsa civil-military airport base taken on April 1, left, and May 17, 2020, near the border with India in far western region of Tibet in China show development around the airport. Tensions along the China-India border high in the Himalayas have flared again in recent weeks. Indian officials say the latest row began in early May, when Chinese soldiers entered the Indian-controlled territory of Ladakh at three different points, erecting tents and guard posts. China has sought to downplay the confrontation while providing little information. (Planet Labs via AP)
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India and China have agreed to "peacefully resolve" the latest border flare-up that has heightened tensions between them, New Delhi said on Sunday after a high-level meeting between army commanders.

Tensions have flared in recent weeks, with thousands of troops involved in a stand-off in India's Ladakh region, just opposite Tibet.

"Both sides agreed to peacefully resolve the situation in the border areas in accordance with various bilateral agreements," the Indian foreign ministry said after the meeting on Saturday.

The ministry said the commanders agreed an "early resolution" was "essential" for bilateral relations between the world's two most-populous nations.

"Accordingly, the two sides will continue the military and diplomatic engagements to resolve the situation and to ensure peace and tranquility in the border areas," it said.

There was no immediate reaction from Beijing but state-run agency The Global Times said China's foreign ministry has "stressed at recent press briefings that the situation on the China-India border is stable and controllable, and diplomatic and military channels of communication between the two sides are unimpeded".

There have been numerous face-offs and brawls between Chinese and Indian soldiers at the frontier, but they have become more frequent in recent years.

Indian officials say the latest standoff began in early May when large contingents of Chinese soldiers entered deep inside Indian-controlled territory at three places in Ladakh, erecting tents and posts. They said the Chinese soldiers ignored repeated verbal warnings to leave, triggering shouting matches, stone-throwing and fistfights.

India moved extra troops to positions opposite.

Chinese and Indian soldiers also faced off along the frontier in India’s north-eastern Sikkim state in early May.

Experts in India cautioned that there was little expectation of any immediate resolution from the military meeting on Saturday. In the past, most disputes between China and India have been resolved quickly through such meetings, although some required diplomatic intervention.

Lt Gen D S Hooda, who retired as head of the Indian military’s Northern Command, under which Kashmir and Ladakh fall, said the negotiations are going to be “long and hard”.

“There won’t be much headway at military-level talks in terms of resolving the issue. But the military-level talks will help de-escalate tensions on the ground and set a stage for diplomatic negotiations,” he said.

Though skirmishes are not new along their long-disputed frontier, the standoff at Ladakh’s Galwan Valley, where India is building a strategic road connecting the region to an airstrip close to China, has escalated in recent weeks.

The Chinese “ingress into the Galwan River valley opens up a new and worrying chapter”, Ajai Shukla, a former Indian military officer and a defence commentator, wrote on his website.

India unilaterally declared Ladakh a federal territory while separating it from disputed Kashmir in August 2019. China was among the handful of countries to strongly condemn the move, raising it at international forums including the UN Security Council.

The China-India border dispute covers nearly 3,500 kilometers of frontier that the two countries call the Line of Actual Control. They fought a bitter war in 1962 that spilled into Ladakh. The two sides have been trying since the early 1990s to settle their dispute without success.