India-China talks on sidelines of Brics descend into row over who requested meeting

Leaders of the nuclear neighbours agree on de-escalation from contested border areas

Shweta Sharma
Friday 25 August 2023 10:04 BST
President of China Xi Jinping, President of Brazil Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi gesture during the 2023 Brics
President of China Xi Jinping, President of Brazil Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi gesture during the 2023 Brics (AFP via Getty Images)

Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping have agreed on the expeditious de-escalation of tensions in the contested border areas between India and China after they met on the sidelines of the Brics summit in Johannesburg.

This was the first such public acknowledgement of a meeting between the leaders of the two countries over the disputed territory in the last three years.

India and China have faced strained ties for many years, with relations plummeting further after the nuclear neighbours were embroiled in a bitter border dispute that began in 2020.

But any progress in the thaw of relations threatens to be overshadowed by a row over which side requested the meeting between Mr Xi and Mr Modi.

The Chinese foreign ministry said in a press release that the meeting was requested by Mr Modi during the Brics summit. But the Indian side swiftly said the meeting happened as there was a “pending request from the Chinese side for a bilateral meeting”, Indian foreign ministry sources told The Independent.

Relations between the south Asian neighbours have been deteriorating since 2020 as thousands of soldiers from both sides have been stationed over several fraction points on the loosely demarcated border shared by them, known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The talks happened on the sidelines of the Brics summit, a grouping comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, that seeks to counter Western multilateral platforms.

Brics leader pose for picture after the summit (POOL/AFP/Getty)

“In a conversation with President Xi Jinping of China, PM highlighted India’s concerns on the unresolved issues along the LAC in the western sector of the India-China border areas,” Indian foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra said on Thursday at the end of the three-day summit.

He said Mr Modi raised the border issue with Mr Xi, namely “the maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the border areas” and that “observing and respecting the LAC are essential for the normalisation of the India-China relationship”.

“In this regard, the two leaders agreed to direct their relevant officials to intensify efforts at expeditious disengagement and de-escalation,” he said.

The Chinese foreign ministry statement said the meeting between Mr Xi and Mr Modi was a “candid and in-depth exchange of views” on the current China and India relationship.

“President Xi stressed that improving China-India relations serves the common interests of the two countries and peoples, and is also conducive to peace, stability and development of the world and the region,” it said.

Beijing and Delhi should also bear in mind the “overall interests of their bilateral relations and handle properly the border issue” to jointly safeguard peace and tranquillity in the border region, the statement said.

The meeting between the two leaders was their first officially announced one since 2020. Mr Modi and Mr Xi had held brief talks on the sidelines of G20 Summit held in Bali last year, but that interaction was kept under wraps for almost eight months.

That meeting had come to light after China said Mr Xi and Mr Modi had reached an “important consensus” during their interaction at the Bali summit.

India and China have so far held 19 rounds of military and commander-level talks to disengage and de-escalate from the border. They have yielded no breakthrough and little progress.

Indian diplomats have insisted there could be no “business as usual” if the border issue is not resolved, while the Chinese side has appeared to downplay Delhi’s concerns and urged a “long-term view” of the situation instead.

The latest 19th round of talks, known as the India-China Corps Commander level meeting, was held on 13-14 August. No breakthrough was achieved, with the two sides only saying they held “positive, constructive and in-depth discussion on the resolution” on the issue of the border on the western sector.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in