After Defence Ministers Meeting, India-China Agree to De-Escalate Tensions

While both countries asserted their positions, the talks concluded with each country stating that the other side had agreed to peacefully “de-escalate” the situation.

New Delhi: While both countries asserted their positions, the talks between Indian and Chinese defence ministers in Russia over the ongoing border tensions in eastern Ladakh concluded with each country stating that the other side had agreed to peacefully “de-escalate” the situation.

The meeting on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) was the highest face-to-face political contact between India and China since the current stand-off began in early May.

The discussions went on for nearly two and half hours in a Moscow hotel between Indian defence minister Rajnath Singh and China’s state councillor and defence minister Wei Fenghe on Friday night.

Thousands of Indian and Chinese troops have been poured into eastern Ladakh in a stand-off which has lasted for over four months, which began with a couple of clashes at Galwan valley and Pangong Tso lake. It triggered into a face-to-face in the hostile heights of eastern Ladakh, where Chinese troops have entered much further beyond the India perception of the Line of Actual Control in multiple points. After a violent face-off in Galwan valley on June 15 that left scores dead, there have been several rounds of discussions between ground commanders to ease the situation, but it is currently stalled.

BSF soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint along a highway leading to Ladakh, June 17, 2020. Photo: Reuters/Danish Ismail

What the statements say

The Indian statement issued on Saturday afternoon stated that Singh had “emphasised that the actions of the Chinese troops including amassing of large number of troops, their aggressive behaviour and attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo were in violation of the bilateral agreements and not in keeping with the understandings reached between the Special Representatives of two sides”.

He also urged the Chinese to work with the Indian Army for “complete disengagement from all friction ares including as well as de-escalation in border areas” and “not make attempts to unilaterally changed status quo”.

The Chinese ministry of defence stated that minister Wei had said that relations between the two sides had been badly affected by the border tensions. He apparently also conveyed that “it was important for the two defence chiefs to have a frank exchange of views on relevant issues face-to-face”.

The Chinese language statement said that Wei had noted that the “causes and truth of the current tension on the China-India border are clear, and the responsibility is entirely with India”. This line was, however, missing in the English press communique of the Chinese defence ministry.

The Chinese minister told Singh that India should “strengthen management and control of its frontline troops and not make provocations or deliberately hype and spread negative information”.

Singh, however, noted that the Indian troops had always been “very responsible” towards border management.

Both sides asserted that they will protect their own sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The Indian statement claimed that the Chinese interlocutor had agreed that both sides should proceed with the leaders’ consensus on resolving issues through dialogue, follow bilateral pacts, strengthen regulation of frontline troops and not undertake any “provocative action”.

India has recently accused China of taking “provocative action” – a euphemism for trying to cross the Line of Actual Control – on two separate days on Aug 29 and 31, which further spiked the tensions.

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India’s readout of the meeting also claimed that the Chinese minister had said that the two countries “should focus on the overall situation of India-China relations and work together to de-escalate the situation as soon as possible, and maintain peace and tranquillity in the India-China border areas”.

The Chinese statement also mentioned a similar phrase, but put the words in the Indian minister’s mouth. “Singh stressed the importance of a peaceful border relation with China, saying both sides should keep the channels of military and diplomatic dialogue open. He told his Chinese counterpart that India agrees to work toward full disengagement of frontline forces as soon as possible and push the relations between the two countries and armies back on track”.

There also seemed to be a consensus that talks are the only way forward, with China claiming that Singh had underlined that “both sides should keep the channels of military and diplomatic dialogue open”

“The Chinese defence minister suggested that both sides should maintain communication at all levels including between the two ministers,” stated the Indian statement.

The Indian and Chinese foreign ministers are also expected to meet at the SCO council of ministers meeting on September 10.