x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Indian minister to visit China as crisis over disputed Himalayan border ends

India has announced that its foreign minister will visit China this week as Indian media reports the countries have agreed to end a three-week stand-off over their disputed Himalayan border.

NEW DELHI // India announced yesterday that its foreign minister will visit China this week as Indian media reported the countries have agreed to end a three-week stand-off over their disputed Himalayan border.

Salman Khurshid will hold discussions in Beijing on Thursday, an Indian foreign ministry statement said. The trip comes ahead of the Chinese premier Li Keqiang's scheduled visit to India later this month.

The crisis began when New Delhi accused Chinese troops of crossing the de facto border between the countries and infiltrating into Indian territory on April 15. About 50 Chinese soldiers pitched tents and were camping in Dapsang valley in the Ladakh region of eastern Kashmir, according to India.

China dismissed the reports of an incursion, saying its troops were on Chinese territory. As tensions rose, India moved soldiers into the disputed area in Ladakh so that the two sides were in a face-off just 300 metres apart across the barren terrain.

Army commanders from both sides held a series of meetings to resolve the crisis. India's foreign secretary called in the Chinese ambassador to register a strong protest, while top officials conferred with their counterparts in Beijing and New Delhi.

Officials from India's defence and external affairs ministries refused to comment yesterday on the resolution of the confrontation.

However, Indian newspapers reported that over the weekend, Indian and Chinese army commanders held two meetings where they agreed on a simultaneous withdrawal of troops to their original positions and the removal of tents erected in the disputed area. The process of withdrawal has already begun and was expected to be completed by last night.

The Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she was unable to confirm reports that both sides had decided to draw back from the area.

"We think it serves the interests of both parties to preserve peace and stability in the border region between China and India. China would like to work with India to hammer out a border solution which is fair, just and acceptable to both sides," she said.

India and China - neighbours with more than 1 billion people each - have had chilly relations since they fought a brief border war in 1962.

India says China is occupying 38,000 square kilometres of territory in the Aksai Chin plateau in the western Himalayas, while China claims around 90,000 square kilometres of land in India's state of Arunachal Pradesh.

The two have held 15 unsuccessful rounds of talks to resolve the border dispute.

Other irritants remain in the relationship. China is a long-time ally and weapons supplier to Pakistan. The presence in India of the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and the self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile is also a source of tension. China is also suspicious of New Delhi's growing ties with the United States.

Despite the territorial tensions, bilateral trade has soared, with China becoming India's biggest trading partner. Two-way trade jumped from Dh18.35 billion in 2002 to nearly Dh275.25bn in 2011, but declined slightly last year because of the global economic downturn.

Both countries appeared unwilling to let the latest spat over their largely undemarcated border upset their booming trade and relations that have improved over the last couple of decades.

Mr Khurshid was scheduled to visit Beijing on Thursday to prepare for Mr Li's visit. But as friction over the boundary mounted, Mr Khurshid made his China visit conditional on a Chinese troop withdrawal.

Analysts said both sides were keen to avoid worsening the crisis. If Mr Khurshid had cancelled his visit, it would have proved embarrassing for Mr Li, who is making his first trip abroad after taking over as China's premier two months ago.