India, China defence ministers blame the other for fresh border conflict, but agree to defuse tensions

MOSCOW (BLOOMBERG, AFP) – Defence ministers from India and China agreed to defuse tensions after the latest clash on their Himalayan border revived a conflict that had been largely dormant since June.

India’s Rajnath Singh and his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe held “frank and in-depth discussions” in Moscow last Friday (Sept 4) about developments on the border and on bilateral relations, according to a statement from India’s Ministry of Defence.

While the statement said that they agreed to ease tensions, both sides blamed the other for the fresh conflict.

Multiple rounds of high-level military talks have failed to end the months-long standoff between China and India, and both sides have moved thousands of troops, tanks, artillery guns and fighter jets close to the border since May.

The latest skirmish late last week took place along Pangong Tso – a glacial lake at 14,000 feet – along the 3,488km Line of Actual Control.

India had said its soldiers were able to stop a push by Chinese troops to claim more ground in violation of existing agreements, while Beijing denied its troops had strayed into Indian territory.

India wanted to settle the dispute through talks “but at the same time there should also be no doubt about our determination to protect India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

China’s defence minister took a similarly tough line.

General Wei said: “The cause and truth of the current tension on the border between China and India are very clear, and the responsibility lies entirely with India.”

He added that “China’s territory cannot be lost”, calling on India to “strengthen control of frontline forces” and “refrain from any actions that may cause the situation to heat up”.

Mr Singh “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”, according to the Indian defense ministry’s statement on Saturday.

He said Indian troops had taken “a very responsible approach towards border management, but at the same time there should also be no doubt about our determination to protect India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”, it added.

India and China’s worst dispute in four decades culminated in the death of 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers in a battle in June.

The conflict has prompted economic ties to deteriorate, with India limiting Chinese investments, tightening scrutiny on visas and moving to keep Huawei Technologies out of 5G networks.

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