China and India Pledge to Ease Tensions After Border Clashes


China and India have once again pledged to defuse tensions along their contested Himalayan border, days after officials in both countries accused the other of firing shots in the region for the first time in decades.

A previous promise to step back from a broader military conflict, made in June, failed to end a monthslong confrontation. Skirmishes have continued as troops on both sides jockeyed for control of the forbidding, mountainous territory along a part of their 2,000-mile border.

“As two neighboring great powers, it is normal that some disagreements should exist between China and India,” China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, said in a statement released in Beijing on Friday, “but these disagreements need to be appropriately situated in bilateral relations.”

“The key is to uphold the strategic consensus of the two countries’ leaders, that China and India are not competitors, but cooperative partners,” he said.

Mr. Wang met his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, on the sidelines of a regional security summit meeting in Moscow on Thursday. They issued a five-point statement pledging to “continue dialogue to disengage as quickly as possible, maintaining a necessary distance and easing the situation on the ground.”

The statement called on the defense forces of both countries to respect longstanding agreements on military patrols along the border — including a prohibition on the use of firearms and the opening of communication channels. “The current situation in the border areas is not in the interest of either side,” the statement said.

The statement, however, did not address the underlying differences that have stoked tensions this year, including where exactly the frontier, known as the Line of Actual Control, lies.

In India, officials and analysts have warned that China wants to consolidate the incremental territorial gains it has made and thus create a new status quo. China has denied crossing the Line of Actual Control.

Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, said there was nothing new in the statement, as in the pledge announced in June, that directly addressed India’s accusations that China has seized new territory.

“The lesson from the collapse of the accord was that China was willing to defuse tensions if India would accept the new facts on the ground,” he said.

The clashes began in May after India accused soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army of advancing beyond the de facto border in the Ladakh region, which borders Tibet. China has, in turn, accused India of building roads and defensive structures that pose a threat to the status quo in the region, which was the site of a bloody war in 1962.

In June, a brawl broke out in a narrow gorge called the Galwan Valley, with soldiers fighting hand to hand or with improvised clubs. The fight killed 20 Indian soldiers and a number of Chinese, though officials in Beijing have not disclosed an official count. In August, a soldier belonging to a secretive force of Tibetan refugees who work with the Indian army died after he stepped on a land mine along the frontier.

Both sides have rushed in reinforcements, backed by artillery, tanks and fighter jets and helicopters. In recent days, the Indian Army has deployed thousands of troops to places they have never been sent before; local volunteers have been helping shuttle in food supplies, sometimes walking miles to new army outposts.

The two countries have also released photographs and videos showing clashes along the border that support their respective versions of events, though it is difficult to independently verify claims given the remoteness of the region.

The latest clash took place on Monday in the region of Chushul, not far from Pangong Lake, which is split by the Line of Actual Control and has been the site of numerous confrontations. The use of firearms — regardless of which side fired them — was an ominous sign of rising tensions given the longstanding agreements intended to keep the two armies from slipping into warfare. No shots have been fired aggressively on the border since four Indian troops were killed in a clash in 1975.

Mr. Wang, the Chinese foreign minister, emphasized that the border tensions should not disrupt the broader relationship between the two countries, which until this year had been improving. The rupture in India, however, has unleashed a wave of protests against China and boycotts of Chinese-made goods, including scores of mobile phone apps.

The clashes have stoked nationalist sentiment in China, as well.

China has moved aggressively this year to assert its sovereignty on a number of other fronts, too, at a time when the world remains convulsed by the coronavirus pandemic and relations with the United States have soured badly ahead of the presidential election in November.

The Trump administration has challenged China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea more explicitly than before and signaled deeper support for Taiwan, the island democracy that China claims.

On Thursday, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry complained that Chinese military aircraft violated the island’s airspace for two consecutive days in what was viewed as the most serious provocation since China fired missiles into the Taiwan Strait in 1996.

“The military action of the Chinese government has constituted a grave provocation against Taiwan and a grave threat to regional security and stability,” the statement said.

Steven Lee Myers reported from Seoul, South Korea; and Sameer Yasir from Srinagar, Kashmir. Chris Buckley contributed reporting from Sydney, Australia; and Amy Chang Chien from Taipei, Taiwan.



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