Rajnath Singh, Chinese defence minister hold over two-hour long talks, focus on easing border tension

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Moscow/New Delhi: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his Chinese counterpart Gen. Wei Fenghe Friday held over a two-hour-long meeting in Moscow with a focus on easing escalating border tension in eastern Ladakh, government sources said.

It was the first high-level political face-to-face meeting between the two sides after the border row erupted along the Line of Actual Control(LAC) in eastern Ladakh in early May. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval have previously held separate telephonic talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to resolve the standoff.

Sources said that during the talks Singh insisted on restoration of the status quo ante in eastern Ladakh and disengagement of troops in an expeditious way.

“The meeting between Raksha Mantri Shri @rajnathsingh and Chinese Defence Minister, General Wei Fenghe in Moscow is over. The meeting lasted for 2 hours and 20 minutes,” Singh’s office tweeted.

Sources said the Indian delegation strongly objected to Chinese army’s fresh attempts to change the status quo in the southern bank of Pangong lake and insisted on resolution of the standoff through talks.

“The focus of the talks between the two defence ministers was on ways to resolve the prolonged border standoff,” a source said.

Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar and Indian Ambassador to Russia D B Venkatesh Varma were part of the Indian delegation at the talks that began at around 9:30 pm IST at a prominent hotel in Moscow.

The meeting was requested by the Chinese defence minister, the sources said.

Both Singh and Wei are in Moscow to attend a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation(SCO) defence ministers which took place earlier in the day.

In his address at the SCO ministerial meet, Singh said peace and security in the region demands a climate of trust, non-aggression, peaceful resolution of differences and respect for international rules. The SCO is a eight-nation grouping.

Singh’s comments in the presence of the Chinese defence minister was seen as a veiled message to China over the border row in eastern Ladakh.

Indian and Chinese troops are engaged in a bitter standoff in multiple places in eastern Ladakh.

Tensions flared up again in the region after China unsuccessfully attempted to occupy Indian territory in the southern bank of Pangong lake five days ago when the two sides were engaged in diplomatic and military talks to resolve the border row.

India occupied a number of strategic heights on the southern bank of Pangong lake and strengthened its presence in Finger 2 and Finger 3 areas in the region to thwart any Chinese actions. China has strongly objected to India’s move. India has, however, maintained that the strategic heights are on its side of the LAC.

India has also rushed in additional troops and weapons to the sensitive region following China’s transgression attempts.

The tension between the two sides had escalated manifold after the violent clashes in Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh June 15 in which 20 Indian Army personnel were killed. The Chinese side also suffered casualties but it is yet to give out the details. According to an American intelligence report, the number of casualties on the Chinese side was 35.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar is also scheduled to travel to Moscow next week to attend a meeting of the foreign ministers of the SCO September 10. He is expected to have a meeting with Wang Yi on the sidelines of this meeting.

PTI