India-China End Himalayan Border Stand Off as Troops Withdraw

India and China ended a three-week standoff along their disputed Himalayan border as soldiers from both sides agreed to pull back from positions taken up after an alleged incursion by Chinese troops.

The two sides are returning to locations held before April 15, Syed Akbaruddin, a spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, said in a text message. India accused China of entering its territory in the Depsang valley in Ladakh, while China said its troops didn’t cross the so-called Line of Actual control dividing the countries.

The agreement may ease tensions ahead Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid’s trip to China on May 9 and a visit to India by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang expected later this month. Relations are hobbled by differences over the frontier even as trade between the two countries, home to more than a third of the world’s population, has flourished.

“China and India, with the larger interests of bilateral relations in mind, have taken a cooperative and constructive attitude, exercised restraint, and properly handled the incident through relevant mechanisms, diplomatic channels, and border meetings,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing today.

The nuclear-armed countries fought a brief border war in 1962. India accuses China of occupying 38,000 square kilometers (14,670 square miles) of territory in Jammu and Kashmir to the west, while the government in Beijing says 90,000 square kilometers of land in Arunachal Pradesh, in India’s northeast, belongs to China.

Sitanshu Kar, the New Delhi-based defense ministry spokesman, declined to comment.

Visa Row

Military relations between the two countries were suspended in August 2010 after China issued a visa to an Indian army officer in charge of forces in Kashmir without stamping his passport, an act seen as questioning India’s rule over the disputed Himalayan territory. China has a close alliance with Pakistan, which has waged two wars with India over Kashmir.

While India and China have been unable to resolve disputes over part of their 3,500-kilometer boundary after more than a dozen rounds of discussions since 2005, they have sought to prevent disagreements from affecting economic ties. China is India’s second-largest trading partner and two-way trade was $50.9 billion in the April-December period, according to Indian government figures. Commerce was $38 billion for the full-year between April 2007 and March 2008.

China is engaged in a series of territorial disputes, in the South and East China Seas, with countries including Vietnam, Malaysia and Japan. China has sent air and sea patrols and conducted military exercises across those areas in recent months as it presses its claims.

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