India and China have agreed to cool tensions along their disputed Himalayan border following their worst border clash in 50 years that left 20 Indian soldiers dead.
Indian army officials said on Tuesday “there was mutual consensus to disengage” following marathon talks held the previous day between military commanders of the two countries. The officials told local media that the “modalities for disengagement from all friction areas in eastern Ladakh are being discussed and will be taken forward by both sides.”
Large contingents of Indian and Chinese forces are confronting each other at three strategic points in eastern Ladakh, a barren icy desert in the Himalayas along their disputed border.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that the two sides “agreed to take necessary measures to cool down the situation.”
Zhao said that both sides “had a candid and deep exchange of views on the border management and control issue, agreeing to take the necessary measures to lower the temperature on the situation.”
Neither China nor India has given any details of how they will deescalate, but the statements were the first signal that both countries have made some progress in bringing down tensions that had spiraled dangerously over the past week.
Commentators in New Delhi, however, pointed out that the disputed Himalayan border between the two countries would continue to be volatile, as the bloody brawl on June 15 had breached agreements that they had reached over the last 25 years to maintain peace.
“The elaborate series of confidence-building measures put in place since 1993 have collapsed. That was the regime through which border patrols and army commanders were able to interact to maintain peace,” says Manoj Joshi, a security expert at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. “Now the whole thing has come apart. What happens next time you meet a Chinese patrol?”
According to earlier agreements, Chinese and Indian border patrols, which are often in close proximity, were not allowed to use firearms during any confrontation. While the latest incident involved hand-to-hand combat, it was more brutal than any in the past and fought with rocks and clubs studded with nails.
Indian officials have called it “premeditated and planned action by Chinese troops.” Beijing has blamed India for the incident.
The two countries also face a mammoth task in resolving the fresh disputes that have erupted in recent weeks along what is known as the Line of Actual Control.
Indian officials have demanded the restoration of the status quo after accusing Beijing of entering its territory. China on the other hand has laid claim to the Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh, where the clash between troops from the two sides took place.
Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who took part in a virtual conference with his counterparts from Russia and China on Tuesday, underlined the need to “respect international law and recognize the legitimate interest of partners.”
Jaishankar said that the meeting “reiterates our belief in the time-tested principles of international relations. But the challenge today is not just one of concepts and norms, but equally of practice.”