India seeks eased tensions with China after Himalayas clash


NEW DELHI (AP) – India’s prime minister is meeting top opposition leaders Friday as the government tries to lower tensions with China after 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a military clash in a Himalayan border region this week.

Leaders of more than a dozen opposition parties are expected to attend Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting as ties fray between the world’s most populous nations.

India and China have accused each other of instigating the clash in the Galwan Valley, part of the disputed Ladakh region along the Himalayan frontier. It was the deadliest conflict between the sides in 45 years. China has not said whether it suffered any casualties.

Both countries said they were communicating through military and diplomatic channels afterward and stressed the importance of their broader bilateral relationship. Experts have said the two nations were unlikely to head to war, but that easing tensions quickly will be difficult.

The Himalayan clash has fanned growing anti-Chinese sentiments due to the coronavirus pandemic, which began in China late last year. India’s caseload has climbed to fourth-highest in the world.

Emotions were high in the southern city of Hyderabad, where thousands watched the funeral procession of Col. Santosh Babu, one of the casualties in Monday’s clash.

An Indian business confederation called for a boycott of 500 Chinese goods, including toys and textiles, to express “strong criticism” of China’s alleged aggression in Ladakh.

India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh spoke to heads of various political parties on Thursday to evolve a consensus on the situation.

The main opposition Congress party said the country deserves to know the truth. “It deserves a leadership that is willing to do anything before allowing its land to be taken,” the party said in a statement.

The clash escalated a standoff that began in early May, when Indian officials said Chinese soldiers crossed the border in three places, erecting tents and guard posts and ignoring warnings to leave. That triggered shouting matches, stone-throwing and fistfights between the opposing sides, much of it replayed on TV news programs and in social media.

The action has taken place along a remote stretch of the 3,380-kilometer (2,100-mile) “Line of Actual Control” – the border established following a war between India and China in 1962 that resulted in an uneasy truce.

The deaths happened in the thin air at 4,270 meters (14,000 feet) above sea level, when soldiers brawled with clubs, rocks and their fists with no shots fired, Indian officials have said. The soldiers carry firearms but are not allowed to use them under a previous agreement in the border standoff dispute.

Indian security officials have said the 20 fatalities were caused by severe injuries and exposure to subfreezing temperatures.

Indian news reports said 76 Indian soldiers were hospitalized with injuries, but the military has not confirmed that. Indian officials have denied that any Indian troops were in Chinese custody.

China claims about 90,000 square kilometers (35,000 square miles) of territory in India’s northeast, while India says China occupies 38,000 square kilometers (15,000 square miles) of its territory in the Aksai Chin Plateau in the Himalayas, a contiguous part of the Ladakh region.

India unilaterally declared Ladakh a federal territory while separating it from disputed Kashmir in August 2019. China was among the countries to condemn the move, raising it at forums including the U.N. Security Council. India was elected to the council this week.

B. Upender weeps by the coffin of his son Colonel B. Santosh Babu in Suryapet, about 140 kilometers from Hyderabad, India, Thursday, June 18, 2020. Babu was among the twenty Indian troops who were killed in the clash Monday night that was the deadliest conflict between the sides in 45 years. India on Thursday cautioned China against making “exaggerated and untenable claims” to the Galvan Valley area even as both nations tried to end a standoff in the high Himalayan region where their armies engaged in a deadly clash. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)