In its first comments on the recent tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), China’s Ministry of Defence said on Wednesday the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) frontier forces had not violated any bilateral agreements.
The Defence Ministry also said, in a faxed statement in response to questions from The Hindu, that it was “maintaining contact and coordinating” with its counterpart in India over the expected visit of Defence Minister A. K. Antony to China, suggesting that China did not see the recent boundary tensions as derailing the visit scheduled for May or June.
The ministry did not, however, reply to questions on what triggered last week’s strains. Indian officials have said both sides had, in the past, carried out patrols in disputed areas where perceptions of the LAC differ. Neither side had, however, set up a tented post in a disputed area in many years.
“What is needed to be emphasised is that the Chinese border troops have strictly abided by the relevant agreements between the governments of the two countries and have throughout been committed to maintaining peace and tranquility in China-India border areas,” the Ministry of Defence said.
Chinese officials have insisted that the PLA did not trespass the LAC, and blamed differing perceptions of the line for the row. Other sources have, however, suggested the PLA’s move could have been a response to recent Indian deployments. At Tuesday’s flag meeting, the Chinese side was reported to have said it would only withdraw if India dismantled recent fortifications in eastern Ladakh.
The statement said defence ties between the two countries had “maintained an overall forward looking development momentum”,as evinced by “positive outcomes in cooperation in the fields of high level exchanges, defence consultations, border exchanges and joint training".
Defence exchanges had been suspended for close to one year in 2010 after China refused to host the then head of the Northern Command citing “sensitivities” on the Kashmir issue. The People’s Liberation Army has since eased its stance, hosting Indian delegations which included officers from Jammu and Kashmir, and last year also arranged a rare visit to Tibet to boost trust. This was followed by a visit to India by former Defence Minister Liang Guanglie in November.
How the recent tensions along the LAC will affect exchanges in coming months - including the much-antipicated joint exercises in China - remains to be seen.
Separately on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters that China wanted both countries to “properly” address any issues regarding the boundary “within the framework of existing mechanisms” in order to create “favourable conditions” for ties.
“The two countries have a consultation and coordination mechanism on the boundary issue. There are open channels of communication between the two countries,” Ms. Hua said. She added that China’s frontier troops were “conducting normal patrols on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control”. Contrary to reports, she neither accepted nor rejected India’s calls to return to the status quo prior to last week’s incursion.
The Defence Ministry said it viewed the two countries’ strategic and cooperative partnership as “not only in accordance with the basic interest of the people of the two countries” but “beneficial to the peace, stability and prosperity of Asia and the world”.
“The Chinese side wishes to push forward the relationship between the two militaries on a healthy path of forward looking development,” the ministry said.