China says India returns soldier who strayed across Ladakh border

China’s official military newspaper has said that India has returned a Chinese soldier who had strayed across a contested de facto border in the western Himalayan region where both sides have been locked in a tense standoff.

The soldier was handed over early on Wednesday morning, according to the PLA Daily report, a state-owned media outlet.

Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of the state-backed Global Times, also confirmed the soldier’s return, saying the move “brings an optimistic message to the tense China-India border”.

He added: “It is hoped the cooperation can grow into more mutual trust between the two.”

India and China have amassed thousands of troops in the region after a deadly clash in June.

The nuclear-armed neighbours have been locked in a months-long border confrontation in the Ladakh region, with troops killing each other in hand-to-hand combat and firing shots in the air. Twenty Indian soliders died in the fierce brawl.

China is believed to also have had casualties but has not given any details. It also detained at least 10 Indian soldiers, including four officers, following the deadly brawl. They were returned three days later after intense military and diplomatic negotiations.

In a statement on Monday, the Indian side said it had “apprehended” a Chinese solider it identified as Wang Ya Long and said he would be released after “completion of formalities”.

The Chinese defence ministry late on Monday said the missing soldier had been helping herders round up yaks when he lost his way on Sunday evening. The statement also called for the soldier’s release as soon as possible to “maintain peace and tranquility” on the border.

India and China have each stationed tens of thousands of troops – backed by artillery, tanks and fighter jets – in the region since the June battle, despite several rounds of talks.

Analysts say both sides are digging in for a long, hard northern winter showdown.

Tensions have also spilled into civilian life, with some Indian nationalists demanding a boycott of Chinese goods and the government banning a slew of social media apps from its major rival.

India is also seeking closer security ties with other countries wary of China’s growing military power.

Australia announced on Tuesday that it would take part, for the first time, in naval exercises with India, Japan and the United States in the Indian Ocean.

Meanwhile the Indian army’s Vice Chief of Staff Lieutenant General S K Saini is in the US for talks and to seek other equipment for use in the China border showdown, government sources said.

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