Defence minister Rajnath Singh on Friday held talks with his Chinese counterpart General Wei Fenghe on the sidelines of the ongoing Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meet in Moscow at a time when the two nuclear powers have been locked in a bitter border row in eastern Ladakh for around four months, officials familiar with the developments said.
In the highest level of government contact between India and China since the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) unilaterally changed the status quo on the contested Line of Actual Control (LAC) in May, the two ministers are understood to have discussed the border stalemate and the way forward to reduce military tensions in the Ladakh sector.
The Chinese side had sought the meeting, the officials said.
The meeting, details of which were yet to emerge at the time of going to press, came days after fresh tension erupted in the Ladakh sector following provocative Chinese actions on the southern bank of Pangong Lake and India’s counter-manoeuvres to occupy key heights that offer the Indian Army a sweeping view of Chinese military activity in the area.
Hours before meeting Wei, Singh, while speaking at an SCO ministerial meeting in Moscow, underscored the need for countries in the SCO region to be sensitive to each other’s interests and resolve differences peacefully, with a climate of trust, non-aggression, sensitivity towards each other.
The comments were made in the presence of Fenghe.
“Peaceful stable and secure region of SCO member states – which is home to over 40% of the global population, demands a climate of trust and cooperation, non-aggression, respect for international rules and norms, sensitivity to each other’s interest and peaceful resolution of differences,” Singh tweeted, summing up his address at the combined meeting of defence ministers of SCO, Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) member states.
“I reaffirm today that India is committed to the evolution of a global security architecture which will be open, transparent, inclusive, rules-based and anchored in international laws… This year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War as well as the formation of the United Nations, which underpins a peaceful world, where international laws and sovereignty of states are respected and states refrain from unilateral aggression on another,” Singh was quoted by PTI as saying in his address.
Singh and his Chinese counterpart met on a day Indian Army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane said that the situation along the LAC was “delicate and serious”, and soldiers were prepared for any contingency. In Ladakh for a security review, Naravane said India would use existing mechanisms to reduce tensions and ensure that the status quo along the LAC is not unilaterally changed. The army chief said the Indian side was firmly committed to resolving the current situation through dialogue.
The external affairs ministry on Thursday blamed China for the tensions along the LAC over the past four months and said the only way forward was through negotiations.
In July, Singh said the progress in negotiations with China should help resolve the ongoing border dispute but he “couldn’t guarantee to what extent the situation will be resolved”.
Tensions flared in the Ladakh sector after the Indian Army occupied key heights on the southern bank of Pangong Lake to stop the PLA from grabbing Indian territory in a stealthy midnight move on August 29.
The PLA made another provocative move on August 31, targeting these positions but the Indian Army’s swift defensive action thwarted the Chinese attempt. Both sides have concentrated a significant number of soldiers, tanks and artillery pieces; and are within each other’s rifle range.
The Indian Army has readjusted its deployments at multiple points along the LAC, including the northern bank of Pangong Lake, to prevent the PLA from making aggressive moves to unilaterally alter the status quo in contested areas.
In his address earlier during the day, Singh also flagged concerns about the situation in the Persian Gulf region. He said: “India has vital interests and links of civilisation and culture with all states in the Gulf. We call upon countries in the region – all of which are dear and friendly to India, to resolve differences by dialogue based on mutual respect, sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs of each other.”
Singh said the security situation in Afghanistan was a matter of concern and New Delhi would continue to support the efforts of the people and Afghan government for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled inclusive peace process.
Foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Friday termed the ongoing border tension with China as “unprecedented situation” and said that India remains firmly committed to preserving its territorial integrity and sovereignty.
“It is an unprecedented situation; we have never had this kind of situation since 1962. We have lost for the first time, lives of soldiers which has not happened in the last 40 years,” Shringla said while speaking at the Indian Council for World Affairs (ICWA) webinar on India-China border issue.