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India-China tensions: Leaders agree to disengage thousands of border troops after clashes

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Indian army soldiers keep guard on top of their vehicle as their convoy moves on the Srinagar- Ladakh highway at Gagangeer, northeast of Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir.
Indian army soldiers keep guard on top of their vehicle as their convoy moves on the Srinagar- Ladakh highway at Gagangeer, northeast of Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir.   -   Copyright  Dar Yasin/Associated Press
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The Indian and Chinese foreign ministers agreed their troops should disengage from a tense border standoff, maintain proper distance and ease tensions in the Ladakh region where the two sides had their deadliest clash in decades in June.

India’s S. Jaishankar and China’s Wang Yi met in the Russian capital on Thursday night and concurred that "the current situation in the border areas is not in the interest of either side,” according to the joint statement issued on Friday.

Since last week, the Asian giants have accused each other of sending soldiers into the rival’s territory and firing warning shots for the first time in 45 years, threatening a full-scale military conflict.

They did not set any timeline for the disengagement of tens of thousands of troops in a standoff since May, but agreed that "both sides shall abide by all the existing agreements and protocol on China-India boundary affairs, maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas and avoid any action that could escalate matters.”

Earlier this week, Jaishankar described the current situation along the Line of Actual Control as “very serious” and said the state of the border cannot be separated from the state of the relationship.

On Thursday, the two countries agreed that as the situation eases, they should expedite work to conclude "new confidence-building measures to maintain and enhance peace and tranquility in the border areas."

In a separate statement, Wang said “China-India relations have once again come to a crossroads."

Wang “outlined China's stern position on the situation in the border areas, emphasising that the imperative is to immediately stop provocations, such as firing and other dangerous actions that violate the commitments made by the two sides," the statement said.

“It is also important to move back all personnel and equipment that have trespassed. The frontier troops must quickly disengage so that the situation may de-escalate," it quoted Wang as saying.

They met on the sidelines of a gathering of the foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The body comprises China, India, Pakistan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Krgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The disputed 3,500-kilometre border between the world’s two most populous countries stretches from the Ladakh region in the north to the Indian state of Sikkim. The latest standoff is over portions of a pristine landscape that boasts the world’s highest landing strip and a glacier that feeds one of the largest irrigation systems in the world.

Both sides accuse the other of provocative behaviour including crossing into each other’s territory and both have vowed to protect their territorial integrity.

The two nations fought a border war in 1962 that spilled into Ladakh and ended in an uneasy truce. Since then, troops have guarded the undefined border area, occasionally brawling. They have agreed not to attack each other with firearms.

Rival soldiers scuffled in May and June with clubs, stones and their fists in a clash on a high ridge on June 15 leaving 20 Indian soldiers dead. China reported no casualties.