Senior Indian and Chinese military commanders are holding fresh talks aimed at ending a months-long standoff along their disputed border in the remote Ladakh region.
The talks on Monday were being held on the Indian side of the frontier in the Chushul area, but no details were immediately available.
The negotiations come as tens of thousands of rival soldiers on both sides – backed by artillery, tanks and fighter jets – brace for a harsh winter in the cold-desert region where temperatures can fall to minus 50 degrees Celsius (minus 58 Fahrenheit).
India and China have held several rounds of talks by military, diplomatic and political officials, including negotiations between their foreign ministers and defence ministers in Moscow last month.
Although the standoff has persisted, the talks seem to have calmed the situation along the border as no new military aggression has been reported for a month.
Indian soldiers also are engaged in near-daily fighting along the de facto frontier with Pakistan in disputed Kashmir, the Himalayan region dived between the two archrivals and claimed by both in its entirety.
India, Pakistan spat over standoff
Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Monday said China and Pakistan were creating conditions that would inflame the border dispute, evoking a sharp response from Islamabad.
Singh made the remarks while virtually inaugurating 44 bridges in areas on the borders with China and Pakistan that officials say will facilitate easier movement of Indian troops.
“You are well aware of the situation created along our northern and eastern borders,” Singh said. “First Pakistan, and now also by China, as if a border dispute is being created under a mission.”
In response, Pakistan’s foreign ministry rejected Singh’s “unwarranted and irresponsible comments”, calling it “another manifestation of the Indian government’s incurable obsession with Pakistan”.
“Pakistan also condemns the malicious Indian propaganda against the long-standing, close Pakistan-China friendship. It is preposterous for a country that is compulsively expansionist and a brazen practitioner of state-terrorism to level charges against others,” a ministry statement said on Monday.
Deadly clashes in June
The India-China border standoff began in May and escalated in June to the deadliest violence between the two sides in decades – a clash between soldiers using clubs, stones and their fists.
The two countries had agreed in the 1960s not to attack each other with firearms along the border. Twenty Indian soldiers were killed and dozens of others injured. China is believed to have also suffered casualties but has not given any details.
After that clash, the two countries partially disengaged from the site in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley and at least two other places, but the crisis has continued in at least three other areas, including glacial Pangong Lake.
Last month, the world’s two most populous nations accused each other of sending soldiers into each other’s territory in the Pangong area and firing warning shots for the first time in 45 years, raising the spectre of a full-scale military conflict.
The fiercely contested de facto border, known as the Line of Actual Control, separates Chinese-held and Indian-held territories from Ladakh in the west to India’s eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims in its entirety. It is broken in parts where the Himalayan nations of Nepal and Bhutan border China.
According to India, the control line is 3,488 kilometres (2,167 miles) long, while China says it is considerably shorter. The line divides the areas of physical control rather than territorial claims.
Relations between the two countries have often been strained, partly due to their undemarcated border. They fought a border war in 1962 that spilled into Ladakh and ended in an uneasy truce. Since then, troops have guarded the undefined border and occasionally brawled.
India unilaterally declared Ladakh a federal territory and separated it from Indian-administered Kashmir in August 2019, ending its semi-autonomous status.
It also vowed to take back the Chinese-controlled Aksai Chin plateau, which New Delhi says is part of Ladakh.
China was among the first countries to strongly condemn the move, raising it at international forums including the UN Security Council.