Picture: 123RF?budastock
Picture: 123RF?budastock

New Delhi — China and India have agreed to reduce tension a week after their worst clashes in more than 50 years on a disputed part of the Himalayan border left 20 Indian troops dead in hand-to-hand fighting.

The June 15 clash, reportedly fought with fists, clubs and rocks, was the first time troops were killed on their frontier since 1975 and marked a deterioration in ties between the two Asian giants.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said that after talks between the regional military commanders on Monday, both sides “agreed to take necessary measures to promote a cooling of the situation”.

The Press Trust of India said the meeting was between Lt Gen Harinder Singh, commander of the 14 Corps, and Maj Gen Liu Lin, commander of the Tibet military district.

“The holding of this meeting shows that both sides want to deal with their disagreement, manage the situation and de-escalate the situation through dialogue and consultations,” Zhao told reporters.

The two sides “exchanged frank and in-depth views” and “agreed to maintain dialogue and jointly committed to promoting peace and tranquillity in the border areas”, Zhao said.

There was no official comment from New Delhi, but an Indian army source said that after the meeting, reportedly lasting nearly 11 hours, that there was a “mutual consensus to disengage”.

He said that ways of reducing friction in the Ladakh region bordering Tibet “were discussed and will be taken forward by both the sides”.

The meeting came ahead of virtual talks between the foreign ministers of India, China and Russia on Tuesday to discuss the coronavirus and commemorate the end of World War 2.

While Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar made no direct mention of the clashes in his opening remarks, Russia’s Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow saw no need to mediate between the two countries.

“I don’t think China or India need any help whatsoever,” Lavrov said.

Russia is a major supplier of arms to both countries.

The Times of India reported that Indian defence minister Rajnath Singh, in Moscow this week, would press Russia to fast-track delivery of its S-400 missile defence system as well as spares for fighter planes, tanks and submarines.

Boycott calls

China has said it suffered casualties, but gave no other details. Indian media reports suggested more than 40 Chinese soldiers were killed or seriously injured.

India has sent reinforcements of soldiers, military equipment and fighter jets into the highly militarised region. China is reportedly following suit.

In India, there are mounting calls for a boycott of Chinese goods.

The clashes followed an agreement in early June to disengage after weeks of rising tension on the border, known as the line of actual control, that included  brawls.

The June 15 violence took place about 4,500m above sea level in the Galwan River valley, where both sides accuse each other of territorial encroachment.

China claims the whole valley. Indian officials say this is a new demand. China reportedly controls more of the northern shore of the Pangong Tso lake.

Harsh Pant of the Observer Research Foundation think-tank in New Delhi said he was sceptical that anything concrete was resolved in the talks between the military commanders.

“Anything that the Chinese now say can’t be taken on face value. India, hopefully, has learnt its lessons now,” Pant said.

“The episode has shaken Indian’s belief that a normal rational relationship with China is possible. And the power disparities are so huge that there is a degree of discomfort and suspicion in New Delhi,” he said.