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India, China Establish Hotline to Reduce Border Tensions

FILE - A screenshot from video shows the disengagement process between the Indian Army and China's People's Liberation Army from a contested lake area in the western Himalayas, in Ladakh region, India, Feb. 11, 2021. (Indian Army/Reuters TV/via Reuters)

India and China have agreed to establish a hotline between their foreign ministers, days after they pulled back thousands of troops that were facing off along their common border since a deadly clash in June.

The decision was announced Friday by the Indian Foreign Ministry following a lengthy phone call between the Indian and Chinese foreign ministers.

A statement said that the hotline will “help exchange opinions in a timely manner.”

The troop pullback, along Pangong Lake in Ladakh, concluded last week, signaling a breakthrough in the serious military confrontation between Asian rivals.

But as other disputes continue to fester in the same region, India is pushing for an early resolution of their border differences.

In New Delhi, the Foreign Ministry said Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, that the two sides should “quickly resolve” the remaining issues in Ladakh and prolonging them was not in the interest of either side.

Although troops have withdrawn from Pangong Lake, thousands of soldiers from both countries are still deployed in close proximity at three “friction” points in Ladakh, Depsang Plains, Gogra Post and Hot Springs.

“Once disengagement is completed at all friction points, then the two sides could also look at broader de-escalation of troops in the area and work toward restoration of peace and tranquility,” the statement said.

In Beijing, a statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that the pullback had eased the situation and the two countries should build trust and “handle the boundary question properly to prevent the bilateral relationship from sinking into a negative cycle.”

Indian analysts warn that restoring ties that plummeted in the wake of the standoff that began last April will be a long haul. They say India cannot afford to lower its guard despite the recent troop pullback, because the two countries are nowhere near a resolution of their border differences.

“Things have not changed much on the ground as far as I am concerned,” says strategic affairs expert Bharat Karnad at New Delhi’s Center for Policy Research. “The two sides may have withdrawn from some areas but essentially I don’t think much has improved."

India had accused China of transgressing deep into its territory and setting up tents and temporary structures in the Pangong Lake area in April. China denies the allegation, saying its troops are operating in Chinese territory. A clash that killed 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers in the area intensified tensions.

Both countries have competing territorial claims along large stretches of the 3,500-kilometer border that remains non-demarcated. Several rounds of talks in the last three decades have failed to resolve the differences.