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Indian minister to visit China as crisis ends

Nirmala George, Associated Press

NEW DELHI (AP) -- India announced Monday that its foreign minister will visit China this week as local media reported the two Asian giants have agreed to end a three-week stand-off over their disputed Himalayan border.

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid will hold discussions in Beijing on Thursday, an Indian foreign ministry statement said. The trip comes ahead of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's scheduled visit to India later this month.

The crisis began when New Delhi accused Chinese troops of crossing the de facto border between the countries and infiltrating into Indian territory on April 15. About 50 Chinese soldiers pitched tents and were camping in Depsang valley in the Ladakh region of eastern Kashmir, according to India.

China dismissed the reports of an incursion, saying its troops were on Chinese territory, on their side of the Line of Actual Control that serves as the de facto border. As tensions rose, India moved soldiers into the disputed area in Ladakh so that the two sides were in a face-off just 300 meters (yards) apart across the barren terrain.

Local army commanders from both sides held a series of meetings to resolve the crisis. India's foreign secretary called in the Chinese ambassador to register a strong protest, while top officials conferred with their counterparts in Beijing and New Delhi.

Indian newspapers reported that over the weekend, Indian and Chinese army commanders held two meetings where they agreed on a simultaneous withdrawal of troops to their original positions and the removal of tents erected in the disputed area. The process of withdrawal has already begun and was expected to be completed by Monday evening.

In New Delhi, External Affairs spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said the governments had agreed to pull their troops back to positions they held prior to the current stand-of.

Border commanders from both sides met to work out the timing and confirm the arrangements of the pullbacks, Akbaruddin said Monday.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she was unable to confirm reports by Indian media that both sides had decided to draw back from the area.

"At present, as far as I know, positive progress has been made in the friendly talks by relevant authorities from the two countries," Hua told reporters Monday at a daily briefing.

"We think it serves the interests of both parties to preserve peace and stability in the border region between China and India. China would like to work with India to hammer out a border solution which is fair, just and acceptable to both sides," she said.

India and China — neighbors with more than 1 billion people each — have had chilly relations since they fought a brief border war in 1962.

India says China is occupying 38,000 square kilometers (15,000 square miles) of territory in the Aksai Chin plateau in the western Himalayas, while China claims around 90,000 square kilometers (35,000 square miles) of land in India's northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh.

The two have held 15 unsuccessful rounds of talks to resolve the border dispute.

Other irritants remain in the relationship. China is a longtime ally and weapons supplier to Pakistan, India's bitter rival. The presence in India of the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and the self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile is a source of tension. China is also suspicious of New Delhi's growing ties with the United States.

Despite the territorial tensions, bilateral trade has soared, with China becoming India's biggest trading partner. Two-way trade jumped from $5 billion in 2002 to nearly $75 billion in 2011, but declined slightly last year because of the global economic downturn. Trade remains heavily skewed in China's favor, another source of worry for India.

Both countries appeared unwilling to let the latest spat over their largely undemarcated border upset their booming trade and relations that have improved over the last couple of decades.

Khurshid was scheduled to visit Beijing on Thursday to prepare for Li's visit. But as friction over the boundary mounted, Khurshid made his China visit conditional on a Chinese troop withdrawal.

Analysts said both sides were keen to avoid worsening the crisis. If Khurshid had canceled his visit, it would have proved embarrassing for Li, who is making his first trip abroad after taking over as China's premier two months ago.


Associated Press writer Louise Watt reported from Beijing.