The foreign ministers of China and India are due to meet on Thursday in a bid to defuse the military stand-off along their disputed Himalayan border.
S. Jaishanakar, India’s foreign minister, will hold talks with Wang Yi, his Chinese counterpart, in Moscow just days after the countries accused each other of firing the first shots along the frontier in 45 years.
This week’s clashes were the latest sign of a breakdown of the longstanding, mutually agreed border management protocols that barred either side from using firearms as they patrolled the contested border zone in Ladakh’s inhospitable terrain.
“The situation on the border in Ladakh is on a knife’s edge and it could easily escalate into a military conflict,” said defence analyst Sushant Singh, a former army officer. “If these talks fail, the only option is for the top two leaders to talk, or the conflict to escalate.”
Tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours have been rising since India accused China of taking positions in territory that New Delhi claimed as its own. In June, 21 Indian soldiers were killed in a high-altitude border brawl in the Galwan Valley that also claimed an unknown number of Chinese casualties.
Indian troops last week seized control of a strategic ridge, giving them a critical vantage point over a Chinese military base. Indian military analysts said Chinese troops had made several attempts to dislodge the Indian forces from their new position.
Analysts have also warned that the situation on the border was growing increasingly volatile after both sides reinforced their forward positions. They said the talks in Moscow were crucial to prevent the tensions from intensifying.
Vipin Narang, a security studies expert at MIT, said the two countries had to move to disengage militarily to avoid an inadvertent escalation.
“I don’t think that either side really wants to risk a war over these positions along the line of actual control but we now have a lot of friction points,” he said. “The problem isn’t that one side starts a war intentionally. The risk is that they stumble into war.”
But he added that expectations for the talks were muted.
“I don’t think anybody expects there to be a massive breakthrough,” he said. “The best-case scenario is that both sides walk away with a detailed framework of how to disengage.
“You’ve got to pull these forces off each other. The Chinese have taken two steps forward and want India to take one step back,” he added. “Reducing the risks of war means both sides peel off each other, and there is a buffer zone, mutually respected, and gradual withdrawal at all contested positions.”