Indian Presidents Modi and Chinese President Xi have agreed to make “intensive efforts” to de-escalate the border issue


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese leader Xi Jinping have agreed to make “intensive efforts” to de-escalate tensions on their disputed border, in a rare face-to-face meeting since a deadly clash soured ties more than three years ago.

Indian Foreign Minister Vinay Quatra told reporters Thursday that Modi and Xi, who are in Johannesburg for a meeting of the BRICS economic group, had a conversation on the sidelines of the summit. One day after the Chinese leader mysteriously skipped a major event.

It is rare for direct meetings between the leaders of India and China, the world’s two most populous countries.

The disputed border has long been a source of friction between New Delhi and Beijing, as the tension spilled over into the 1962 war that ended with China’s victory. In the years that followed, a poorly defined de facto border called the Line of Actual Control divided the two nuclear powers.

“He (Modi) emphasized that maintaining peace and tranquility in the border areas and observing and respecting the Line of Actual Control is essential for the normalization of Indo-China relations,” Quatra said.

In a statement on Friday, China’s foreign ministry said the two leaders “had a frank and in-depth exchange of views on the current China-India relations,” among other interests.

“President Xi emphasized that improving China-India relations serves the common interests of the two countries and peoples,” he added. “The two sides should take into account the comprehensive interests of their bilateral relations and properly handle the border issue in order to jointly safeguard peace and tranquility in the border area.”

The meeting, which will be seen as a step towards mending their fraught relationship, comes one week after India and China participated in the 19th round of talks to resolve their border issue.

“The two sides had a positive, constructive and in-depth discussion on resolving the remaining issues along the Line of Actual Control in the western sector,” the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.

Modi and Xi attended the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Uzbekistan in September last year, but they did not communicate diplomatically. They had a brief conversation weeks later on the sidelines of the G-20 Leaders’ Meeting in Bali, Indonesia.

Tensions between the two countries soured significantly after a deadly clash in Aksai Chin Ladakh in 2020, and escalated last December when a scuffle between troops from both sides in the Tawang sector of northeastern India’s Arunachal Pradesh province resulted in minor injuries.

In April, India’s defense minister told his Chinese counterpart that violations of the border between the two countries were eroding the “whole foundation” of relations between the two neighbours.

This general view shows a monastery in Tawang near the Line of Actual Control (LAC), which borders China, in the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh on October 20, 2021. (Photo by Money SHARMA/AFP) (Photo by MONEY SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images)

Why fight India and China on the border?

Since the 2020 clash, India has taken several steps to respond to perceived threats from China, including blocking the social media platform TikTok and other well-known Chinese apps, saying they pose a “threat to sovereignty and integrity,” while also moving to block them. Chinese telecom giants Huawei and ZTE have banned the supply of their 5G network.

Recently, both countries seem to have cracked down on reporters, and there are only a few accredited journalists on the ground in their respective territories.

Amid rising nationalism in both countries, concerns in New Delhi about increasing belligerence from Beijing have also bolstered India’s relations with the United States, including through the Quadripartite Security Dialogue, or Quadrangle – a grouping of Japan, the United States, India and Australia that is seen widely shared as a force. A counterweight to China.

Earlier this year, China boycotted a G20 tourism meeting hosted by India in the Himalayan region of Jammu and Kashmir, indicating its opposition to “holding any kind of G20 meeting in a disputed area.” Both India and Pakistan claim sovereignty over the entire disputed Kashmir region.

India’s decision to host the Shanghai Cooperation Organization this year practically meant that Modi and Xi did not have the opportunity to meet face to face. Xi is also expected to attend the G20 leaders’ summit in New Delhi next month.

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