India and China have agreed to “disengage as soon as possible” after troops were involved in a series of clashes at their disputed Himalayan border, according to a joint statement from the two countries.
The nuclear-armed neighbours accused each other this week of firing shots across the contested border in Ladakh, known as the line of actual control (LAC), intensifying a months-long standoff that has already claimed at least 20 lives.
After a meeting on Thursday between Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi and his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, in Moscow, a joint statement said the two sides had agreed to de-escalate.
“Border defence forces of both countries should continue dialogue, disengage as soon as possible, maintain the necessary distance, and ease the situation on the ground,” the statement said.
The two also agreed to “avoid actions that may escalate the situation”.
In May, China was accused of building up troops and artillery along the border and engaging in unusual movements, which India considered to be a violation of its sovereign territory. The situation escalated in June when Indian and Chinese soldiers clashed at high altitude in Galwan Valley in Ladakh, engaging in hand-to-hand combat, which led to the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers.
The two sides pledged to disengage but at least five rounds of military-level talks have failed to resolve the situation and tensions flared again last week, when both sides accused each other of violating sovereign territory. Both sides have sent tens of thousands of troops to the disputed Himalayan border, which sits at an altitude of more than 4,000 metres (13,500ft).
Throughout the dispute, China and India have issued similar statements calling for restraint and to ease tensions.
The frontier between the two countries has never been properly demarcated.
In 1962, India and China went to war over their border, which stretches over 2,000 miles. For decades, things had remained largely peaceful between the two sides, but there is no sign of resolution of the recent military flare-ups and no signs of disengagement on the ground.
The countries fought a brief border war in 1962, but, before this week, officially no shots have been fired in the area since 1975 when four Indian troops were killed in an ambush.