Defence minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday held a bilateral meeting with his Chinese counterpart Li Shangfu ahead of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting in Delhi beginning on Friday.
This is the first time the defence ministers of the two countries have held bilateral talks since the violent Galwan Valley clashes between India and China in which 20 Indian soldiers and at least four Chinese troopers were killed in June 2020 in eastern Ladakh.
Indian and Chinese armies have been locked in border standoffs at multiple transgression points in eastern Ladakh since May 2020. The People’s Liberation Army is said to have altered the unmarked Line of Actual Control and is estimated to have taken over close to 1,000sqkm of India-claimed territory.
“Raksha Mantri Shri Rajnath Singh met State Councillor and minister of National Defence of China General Li Shangfu in Delhi. The two ministers had frank discussions about the developments in the India-China border areas as well as bilateral relations,” said a statement from India’s defence ministry after the bilateral meeting.
The defence minister, the statement said, categorically conveyed that the development of relations between India and China is premised on the prevalence of peace and tranquillity at the borders.
“He added that all issues at the LAC need to be resolved in accordance with existing bilateral agreements and commitments. He reiterated that violation of existing agreements has eroded the entire basis of bilateral relations and disengagement at the border will logically be followed with de-escalation,” the statement said.
Rajnath also held bilateral meetings with the defence ministers of Kazakhstan, Iran and Tajikistan.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is an intergovernmental outfit established in 2001. The SCO members include Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, besides India. Apart from the member states, two observer countries — Belarus and Iran — are also participating in the SCO Defence Ministers Meeting.
Last week, India and China held the 18th round of military talks to resolve the 35-month-long border standoff in Ladakh, but the discussions failed to achieve any breakthrough.
The Chinese are yet to disengage from the strategic Depsang Plains where they are said to be entrenched 18km inside India-claimed lines and have built massive permanent infrastructure including roads, surface-to-air defence systems, radars and observation towers.
So far, Indian and Chinese forces have disengaged from the Galwan Valley, the south and north banks of Pangong Lake, Gogra and Hot Springs by creating demilitarised “buffer zones” at multiple transgression points in eastern Ladakh.