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India, China hold diplomatic parleys on LAC standoff

NEW DELHI, June 5: A day ahead of crucial talks between Indian and Chinese army commanders on the stand-off along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the two sides agreed on Friday to handle their differences through peaceful dialogue while respecting each other’s concerns.

Joint secretary (East Asia) Naveen Srivastava of the external affairs ministry held a meeting with Wu Jianghao, director general in China’s foreign ministry, through video conference and reviewed bilateral relations, including the “current developments”, according to a readout from the Indian side.

This was the first formal diplomatic meeting between the two sides since tensions flared along the LAC following violent clashes between hundreds of Indian and Chinese troops in the Sikkim and Ladakh sectors early last month. Army officers of the two sides have held several meetings along the LAC but were unable to break the impasse.

Both sides agreed that in accordance with the guidance provided by their leadership, they “should handle their differences through peaceful discussion bearing in mind the importance of respecting each other’s sensitivities, concerns and aspirations and not allow them to become disputes”, the external affairs ministry said in a brief statement without giving details.

The two sides “recalled the consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries, that peaceful, stable and balanced relations between India and China will be a positive factor for stability in the current global situation”.

The officials of the two sides also exchanged views on the challenge posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and cooperation at different multilateral forums.

India and China have been in touch through diplomatic and military channels in New Delhi and Beijing to address the border tensions. Joint secretary Srivastava has been involved in these contacts, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity.

The people also acknowledged Friday’s meeting was meant to set the stage for the meeting on June 6 between the general officer commanding of Leh-based 14 Corps, Lt Gen Harinder Singh, and his Chinese counterpart.

The army commanders are meeting almost a month after tensions between India and China flared along the LAC, taking bilateral ties to a new low.

India has dismissed China’s contention that its troops were hindering the activities of Chinese troops along the LAC and accused Chinese forces of hindering patrols on the Indian side. The Indian government has also made it clear that it won’t allow any change in the status quo along the LAC and that it will tackle the prevailing situation with “strength and restraint”.

India and Australia sign deal to use each other's military bases

NEW DELHI, June 4: India and Australia have sealed a deal to get access to each other's military bases, the Indian foreign ministry said - a pact that would clear the way for more military exchanges and exercises in the Indo-Pacific.

The mutual logistic support agreement was signed during a virtual summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison on Thursday.

The agreement allows Indian and Australian military ships and aircraft to refuel and access maintenance facilities at each other's bases.

India has a similar pact with the United States, which is seen as part of broader security cooperation to balance China's growing economic and military weight in the region.

Indian troops are locked in a standoff with Chinese troops on their disputed border, the most serious crisis in years, on top of concerns about a huge trade imbalance in Beijing's favour.

Australia's trade frictions with China are also growing, and its push last month for an international review into the origins and spread of the novel coronavirus drew opposition from China.

Morrison was due in India in January but was forced to cancel the trip because of the bushfires crisis in Australia.

The holding of the summit now, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, showed the importance the two leaders attached to bilateral ties, officials said.

"This is the first time that Prime Minister Modi will be holding a bilateral virtual summit. This signifies the strengthening of ties with Australia and its upward trajectory," Indian foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said before the signing of the deal.

India is also considering Australia's participation in annual naval exercises it holds with the US and Japan in the Indian and Pacific Oceans in a cementing of security ties between the four countries, military officials said.

A similar exercise in 2007 had angered China.

China expands high-altitude weapon systems against India

BEIJING, June 1: China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has expanded its specialised high-altitude arsenal of weapons since the 2017 Doklam standoff with India to prepare for future conflicts, a state media report said.

“Since the Doklam standoff with India in 2017, the Chinese military has expanded its arsenal with weapons like the Type 15 tank, Z-20 helicopter and GJ-2 drone that should give China the advantage in high-altitude conflicts should they arise,” the nationalistic tabloid Global Times reported, quoting anonymous military experts.

The listing of new weapons, which could be specifically used against Indian troops by the Communist Party of China (CPC)-controlled news outlet comes in the backdrop of new tensions at the border.

Soldiers of the two countries are eyeball-to-eyeball at four locations along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh.

Another group of border troops had clashed at Naku La in Sikkim last month as well.

Several rounds of talks between local military commanders have failed to end the standoff that began with a violent confrontation between rival patrols on May 5-6 near Pangong Tso that left scores of soldiers from both sides injured.

China’s state-run media has described the latest tensions as the worst since the 2017 Doklam (Donglang in Chinese) standoff that lasted 73 days.

The Global Times report didn’t mention whether the new tanks and helicopters have already been deployed at the border but indicated that they could be swiftly operationalised.

The report said that both the Type 15 tank and the PCL-181 howitzer - China’s most advanced vehicle-mounted howitzer, as per the report - were displayed in the high-elevation plateau region of Southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region in a China Central Television report on military exercises in January.

The Type 15 tank is the world’s only modern lightweight tank in service, Chinese military magazine Weapon had earlier reported, noting it is equipped with a 105-millimetre gun and advanced sensors that can “devastate enemy light armoured vehicles in regions not suitable for heavy main battle tank deployment”.

“At Airshow China 2018, the Chinese Air Force unveiled the GJ-2 armed reconnaissance drone, which has a higher ceiling and can carry more payload than the previous GJ-1. Reports said it can be used to patrol the long border in high-altitude areas like Tibet.”

The analysts said that the “...specially designed weapons have boosted the Chinese military’s combat capabilities in high-altitude regions, enabling it to better safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

For its first military exercise for 2020, which was held in January, the PLA’s Tibet military command had “...deployed helicopters, armoured vehicles, heavy artillery and anti-aircraft missiles across the region from Lhasa, capital of Tibet, with an elevation of 3,700 meters to border defense frontlines with elevations of more than 4,000 meters,” China Central Television had reported.

Most of the disputed boundary between India and China falls in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), whose international borders include Nepal and Bhutan.

China threatens Trump with 'firm countermeasures'

BEIJING, June 1: China on Monday fired a salvo of criticism against the US, threatening Washington with “firm countermeasures” if it harms Chinese interests in Hong Kong and saying America is “addicted to quitting” because of President Donald Trump’s decision to leave the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, referring to the largescale protests and riots following the death of African-American George Floyd, added that racial discrimination is a long-standing problem in the US and Beijing hoped the US government would take all necessary measures to deal with the violent law enforcement of police, so as to protect and safeguard the legitimate interests of racial minorities.

Black lives matter and their human rights should be protected, he said.

Current ties between the two countries have increasingly soured in recent months over several issues including on the origins of the coronavirus, arms sales Taiwan and ongoing disputes over trade.

On Hong Kong, Zhao said any move by the US to harm Chinese interests will be met with firm countermeasures, questioning Washington’s decision to begin ending special treatment for Hong Kong as well as actions against Chinese students and companies.

Trump ordered his administration to begin the process of eliminating special US treatment for Hong Kong in response to China’s parliament last week voting to implement a new national security legislation on Hong Kong, which, critics say, could impact the “one country, two systems” mechanism.

The US President, however, hasn’t mentioned a timeline for the withdrawal of the special status.

“The announced measures severely interfere with China’s internal affairs, damage U.S.-China relations, and will harm both sides. China is firmly opposed to this,” Zhao said at the regular ministry briefing on Monday.

“Any words or actions by the U.S. that harm China’s interests will meet with China’s firm counterattack,” he said.

Earlier, Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed government was quoted in news reports as telling the US to keep out of the national security debate, warning that withdrawal of the financial hub’s special status could backfire on the US economy.

On Trump’s announcement that the US would leave the WHO, Zhao said the “…US has become addicted to quitting groups and scrapping treaties”.

Trump announced on Friday the US would cut ties with the WHO, accusing the UN agency of becoming China’s puppet.

Beijing warns India not to side with US

BEIJING, June 1: Amid the rising US-China tensions over a wide range of issues including coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, China has advised India not to get involved in US-China confrontation. Beijing has said that India should not become a US pawn attacking China in a new Cold War or else India would face a massive economic blow amid COVID-19 pandemic.

"With nationalist sentiment on the rise in India, there have been some voices calling for the Indian government to join the new Cold War and exploit its position for more gains. Such irrational voices are nothing but misleading, which should not represent the mainstream voices and sway the Indian government's stance. Fundamentally speaking, India has little to gain from engaging in a US-China conflict over any topic, with more to lose than gain, which is why the Modi government needs to face the new geopolitical development objectively and rationally," said an article published in Global Times, which is a daily tabloid newspaper under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party's People's Daily newspaper.

The article added that under the current circumstance, India must not include the US factor in its handling of any problem in its relations with China, otherwise it will complicate the relations between Beijing and New Delhi.

Referrign to the recent China-India border tension, the article said that the offer of US mediation in the issue is unnecessary and both India and China are capable of resolving their problems peacefully. The article asserted that there is no need of a third-party intervention in this matter.

"If in a new Cold War, India leans toward the US or becomes a US pawn attacking China, the economic and trade ties between the two Asian neighbors will suffer a devastating blow. And it would be too much for the Indian economy to take such a hit at the current stage," said the article.

The article also mentioned about Indian government's deicsion to lift the nationwide lockdown, noting that though India is yet to flatten the coronavirus cases curve the decision to end the lockdown is understandable, as its economy has been under enormous strain from the lockdown.

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