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Indian, Chinese defense ministers meet amid border tensions

(An Indian army convoy moves on the Srinagar- Ladakh highway at Gagangeer, northeast of Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020. India said Monday its soldiers thwarted “provocative” movements by China’s military near a disputed border in the Ladakh region months into the rival nations’ deadliest standoff in decades. China’s military said it was taking “necessary actions in response,” without giving details. AP Photo: Mukhtar Khan)

By ASHOK SHARMA, NEW DELHI (AP):- Defense ministers of India and China met in the Russian capital as the two sides try to resolve rising tensions along their disputed border in the eastern Ladakh region, where a June clash killed 20 Indian soldiers.

Neither side gave details of the meeting Friday between India’s Rajnath Singh and China’s Gen. Wei Fenghe. It was the first high-level contact between the two sides since the standoff erupted months ago in the Karakorum mountains.

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

“Peace and security in the region demands a climate of trust, non-aggression, peaceful resolution of differences and respect for international rules,” Singh said at the meeting.

Wei told Singh the sides should “cool down” the situation and “maintain peace and tranquility,” the Chinese Ministry of Defense said on its website. However, it said responsibility for the tension “lies completely with India.”

“Not one inch of Chinese territory can be lost,” the Ministry of Defense said.

The disputed 3,500-kilometer (2,175-mile) 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 behavior including crossing into each other’s territory this week, and both have vowed to protect their territorial integrity.

India’s army chief, Gen. M.M. Naravane, visited the region Thursday and Friday and met with soldiers deployed in difficult terrain above 4,300 meters (14,000 feet), the Indian Ministry of Defense said.

India said its soldiers thwarted movements by China’s military last weekend. China accused Indian troops of crossing established lines of control.

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 brawled in May and in June fought with clubs, stones and fists, leaving 20 Indian soldiers dead. China reported no casualties.

Both sides have pledged to safeguard their territory but also try to end the standoff, which has dramatically changed the India-China relationship. Several rounds of military and diplomatic talks on the crisis have been unsuccessful.

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This story has been corrected to remove reference to Chinese casualties.

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