India and China yesterday began pulling troops back from a disputed area of the Himalayas after resolving a border spat that had threatened to reverse a recent warming in ties, Indian officials said.
More than three weeks after Chinese troops were reported to have set up a camp far inside a region claimed by India, senior officers from both sides reached an agreement for a joint pullback at talks in the region.
“Both sides reached an agreement on Sunday night after a meeting was held between border commanders. We will withdraw our troops and China will do the same,” a senior Indian army official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
“The withdrawal process has begun,” another senior army official said.
A source in the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also confirmed that the pullback had begun and said a statement would be made before parliament later yesterday.
News of the withdrawal came after Indian Minister of Foreign Affairs Salman Khurshid had hinted that he could cancel a planned trip to Beijing tomorrow if there was no resolution to the dispute.
The spat had also cast a cloud over the buildup to a planned visit to New Delhi by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) later this month.
Khurshid said last month that it was important to avoid “destroying” years of progress made between the two nations, while Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had also stressed his desire to avoid exacerbating tensions.
Relations between the neighbors have improved in recent years, but they are still dogged by mutual suspicion — the legacy of a 1962 border war.
The informal border separating China and India is known as the Line of Actual Control. While it has never been formally demarcated, the countries have signed two accords to maintain peace in frontier areas.
Small incursions of a few kilometers across the contested boundary are common, but it is rare for either country to set up camps in disputed territory.
Both countries have been seeking to keep the dispute low-key, keen not to disrupt their booming bilateral trade.
India has called the incursion a “localized problem” and said it believes it is possible to resolve the problem peacefully.
Beijing has said both countries had the “capacity and wisdom” to defuse the row through “friendly consultation,” but insist their troops had “not trespassed the line.”