India and China have agreed to “quickly disengage” from a stalemate that has seen gunfire at a disputed border and charges of kidnapping.
Their foreign ministers met on Thursday and said they would ease tensions.
Soldiers from both countries periodically skirmished along the poorly demarcated border known as the Real Line of Control.
Both sides accused each other of losing their way in their territory, and the clashes sometimes turned deadly.
In a joint statement, neighbors said “the current situation is not in the interests of either side.”
“They therefore agreed that the border troops on both sides should continue their dialogue, disengage quickly, maintain a good distance and ease tensions,” said the statement, released by Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart. Wang Yi.
They added that they would speed up new measures that “maintain and strengthen peace and quiet”, but did not explain further what this would entail.
The two countries already have an agreement that bans the use of firearms along the border.
But relations have deteriorated further in recent days, after China on Tuesday accused Indian troops of illegally crossing the border and firing “provocative” warning shots at soldiers on patrol.
India rejected the allegation, accusing Chinese border forces of firing in the air and claiming that it was they who had “blatantly violated the agreements”.
A day earlier, the Indian military also alerted Chinese officials to reports that five Indian civilians had been abducted by Chinese troops in an area near the disputed border.
China later confirmed to an Indian minister that the missing civilians had been found and that arrangements were being made to hand them over to Indian authorities.
In June, 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a violent skirmish with Chinese forces. Local media then said the soldiers were “beaten to death”.
The actual line of control spans 3440 km (2100 miles). The presence of rivers, lakes and snow-capped peaks means the line can move.
Soldiers on either side – representing two of the world’s greatest armies – come face to face in many places. India has accused China of sending thousands of troops to Ladakh’s Galwan Valley and claims China occupies 38,000 km2 (14,700 square miles) of its territory.
India and China have already tried to ease tensions along the border. But several rounds of negotiations over the past three decades have failed to resolve the differences.
The two countries fought only one war, in 1962, when India suffered a humiliating defeat.
‘A surprise announcement’
Par Vikas Pandey, BBC News, Delhi
The announcement is significant given the sharp exchange of words between the two countries in recent days.
Many analysts have estimated that the likelihood of a limited armed conflict has increased in recent days since Delhi and Beijing accused each other of shooting at the border and violating a treaty banning the use of firearms.
So the announcement came as a surprise and shows that the backchannel talks have been successful – for now.
But the two countries seem to reach consensus in the past and such statements do not guarantee a lasting peace at the border.
Nonetheless, the latest development brings a huge sigh of relief for both countries which are concerned on many fronts.
India is grappling with an alarming increase in Covid-19 cases and a sharp contraction in the economy. For China, even a temporary border peace means one less battle on the international stage.