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Foreign ministers Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Wang Yi last met in person at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting in September. Photo: Reuters

China-India border dispute: ministers speak for first time in 5 months, urge more talks

  • Wang Yi and Subrahmanyam Jaishankar hold phone call after both sides disengage troops from border
  • Jaishankar says they discussed acting on consensus reached last year, while Wang raises concern that India may have changed course in recent days
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi has spoken to his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar for the first time in five months and called for more dialogue to ease tensions in their countries’ months-long border stand-off.
The 75-minute telephone call on Thursday came after troops from both sides disengaged from their disputed border. Wang said front-line troops had completed their disengagement from the Pangong Tso glacial lake area in the Himalayas, but that India’s policy on China had in recent days had “wavered and gone in reverse” in a way that was “not in line with both sides’ interests”.

“The rights and wrongs of last year’s situation at the China-India border are very clear,” he said, according to a statement from China’s foreign ministry. “The experience of the past 10 years has continued to show that giving more prominence to our disagreements does not help to resolve the issues, and will erode the foundation of our mutual trust.”

Wang added that the two sides needed to work further to ease the situation by improving border management mechanisms and the process of engaging in border talks to build mutual trust, noting how difficult it had been for both sides to disengage troops.


China shares video of deadly 2020 border clash with Indian troops in Galwan Valley

China shares video of deadly 2020 border clash with Indian troops in Galwan Valley

Jaishankar tweeted on Thursday that the two had “reviewed the status of disengagement” and discussed implementation of the consensus that he and Wang reached when they met last September on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Moscow – the last known conversation between the foreign ministers.

At the time, Jaishankar and Wang reached a five-point consensus for disengagement and de-escalation at the border.

The nuclear-armed powers have withdrawn thousands of troops from the Pangong Tso area in the Himalayan region of Ladakh since their 10th round of border talks last weekend.

However, other friction points remain regarding the 3,488km (2,167-mile) undemarcated Line of Actual Control (LAC) that separates the countries.

Jaishankar said during the call that both sides needed to quickly resolve remaining issues along the LAC in eastern Ladakh, and then move towards broader de-escalation of troops in the area once disengagement was completed at all friction points, according to a statement from India’s ministry of external affairs. He reportedly said bilateral relations had been “impacted severely” over the past year, referring to previously raised concerns about “provocative behaviour and unilateral attempts of the Chinese side to alter status quo”.

While the boundary question may take time to resolve, the statement by New Delhi said the “disturbance of peace and tranquillity, including by violence, would inevitably have a damaging impact on the relationship”.

China-India border dispute: its origins and impact

The past nine months of military build-up and construction at the border have caused relations to plunge, with calls in India for economic decoupling inflamed by the bloody clash last June in Galwan Valley that killed at least 20 Indian soldiers – the first time that there were casualties at the border since 1975.

In recent months, India has sought to block Chinese investments in strategic industries such as power and infrastructure, and banned more than 200 Chinese apps including TikTok and WeChat over national security concerns.

Disengagement at Ladakh may have begun to ease tensions, with the Indian government reportedly considering granting approval for dozens of investment proposals from Chinese companies.

But both sides acknowledge that the consequences of the border stand-off will be difficult to unravel. Wang on Thursday said the two sides should avoid “walking down the incorrect path of mistrust and suspicion”.

“The border conflict is an objective reality, and we need to give it sufficient priority and to seriously address it,” he said, “but the border problem does not encompass all of China-India relations and should have an appropriate position within the relationship.”