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India and China pledge to disengage troops at tense border

September 11, 2020

China and India agreed to continue communicating on their long-disputed border after several isolated incidents of fighting this year. They said they would "avoid any action that could escalate matters."

Russland Moskau Außenminister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Sergei Lavrov und Wang Yi
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/

After months of aggression at the border, India and China have agreed to "quickly disengage" troops to ease ongoing tensions. The foreign ministers of the two countries issued a statement on Friday, after meeting each other on the sidelines of an event in Moscow.

In the statement, India's foreign minister S. Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi said that the current situation at the border wasn't in the interest of either side.

The ministers pledged that their countries would "abide by all the existing agreements and protocol on China-India boundary affairs, maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas and avoid any action that could escalate matters."

An Indian border security force soldier keeping vigil from a bunker along the Srinagar-Leh National highway on June 17, 2020.
Both sides have re-positioned troops in recent months amid the flareup in tensionsImage: picture-alliance/AA/F. Khan

China and India agreed to continue communicating with each other on the boundary question. However, both countries didn't set a specific timeline for the disengagement of the thousands of troops at the disputed border. 

Read more:  Tense India-China border raises fears of inadvertent escalation

Wang also released a separate statement in which he said that China-India relations have once again come to a "crossroads." Wang said that China's position on the border stand-off was stern and the Asian country wanted to immediately "stop provocations such as firing and other dangerous actions that violate the commitments made by the two sides."

"It is also important to move back all personnel and equipment that have trespassed. The frontier troops must quickly disengage so that the situation may de-escalate," he added.

Border clashes are not new

Skirmishes are not new to the 3,488-kilometer (2,167-mile) frontier between India and China, most of which remains disputed and is not demarcated. The two countries fought a war in 1962 that ended in an uneasy truce, attempts starting in the 1990s to formalize their frontiers have stalled. The disputed border is often referred to as the Line of Actual Control (LAC), a somewhat misleading term given that the two sides disagree on where it lies.


Among other grievances, China claims about 90,000 square kilometers (35,000 square miles) in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, referred to by some in China as "Southern Tibet." India, on the other hand, claims sovereignty over 38,000 square kilometers (15,000 square miles) of the Aksai Chin Plateau. More than a dozen rounds of talks have failed to make substantial progress in the dispute.

The latest standoff at the border began on May 5, when a scuffle broke out at Lake Pangong Tso, located 14,000 feet (4,270 meters) above the sea level in the Himalayan region of Ladakh. 

Chinese soldiers holding banner in Ladakh
Chinese troops hold a banner which reads, 'You've crossed the border, please go back,' in Ladakh, India, on May 5 this yearImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo

Days later, on May 9, dozens of Chinese and Indian soldiers were injured in fistfights and stone-throwing when another fight erupted at Nathu La Pass in the Indian state of Sikkim, nearly 1,200 kilometers to the east along the LAC.

On June 15, a clash between the two sides in Galwan Valley resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese troops. Earlier this week, both sides traded allegations of soldiers entering each other's territory, with the disagreement on where the LAC actually lies potentially explaining the apparent contradiction.

Analysts attribute the increased tension to a number of factors: India's infrastructure activities along the LAC as well as New Delhi's increasing military capabilities, plus the decision to change the status of India-administered Kashmir in 2019 — turning one of the areas claimed by China, Ladakh, into a federal Indian territory in its own right. 

am/msh (AP, Reuters)