India’s Modi highlights concerns with China’s Xi on border issue

By Bhargav Acharya and Tannur Anders

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) -Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to China’s President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Johannesburg and highlighted concerns India has about border issues along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), India’s foreign secretary said.

Modi and Xi agreed “to direct their relevant officials to intensify efforts at expeditious disengagement and de-escalation,” Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said.

Relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbours have been sour for more than three years after soldiers from both sides clashed in the Himalayan frontier in June 2020, resulting in 24 deaths.

While the situation on the nearly 3,000-km (1,860-mile)frontier has been calm since, the face-off continues in a few pockets.

On the sidelines of the BRICS summit Modi highlighted to Xi “India’s concerns on the unresolved issues along the LAC”, Kwatra said.

Modi also “underlined that the maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the border areas, and observing and respecting the LAC are essential for the normalisation of the India-China relationship,” the foreign secretary said.

This is the first time that Modi has brought up the issue directly with Xi, repeating India’s stand that has been shared with China through other ministers multiple times.

The two leaders interacted on the sidelines of the Group of 20 nations summit in Indonesia last year, but only exchanged courtesies and discussed the need to stabilise ties, the Indian government said recently.

Discussions have taken place at several levels to find solutions to border issues, but a resolution remains elusive.

Xi told Modi that improving China-India relations served the interests of the two countries and was conducive to peace, stability, and development, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency, which said the meeting was at Modi’s request.

“The two sides should bear in mind the overall interests of their bilateral relations and handle properly the border issue so as to jointly safeguard peace and tranquillity in the border region,” Xi said.

Just before the two leaders travelled to Johannesburg, military commanders held talks for five days along the Himalayan frontier in an attempt to find a breakthrough. While the two sides said the talks had been positive, there was no word on any pullback of troops on the ground.

China’s foreign and defence ministers visited India earlier this year for G20 and Shanghai Cooperation Dialogue events and met their Indian counterparts.

(Reporting by Bhargav Acharya, Tannur Anders and Michael Martina; writing by Krishn Kaushik; editing by Jonathan Oatis)