By Alejandro R Otero and Javier García
New Delhi/Beijing, Jun 17 (efe-epa).- Both India and China on Wednesday called for peace and sought to find a diplomatic solution to a border stand-off in the Ladakh region in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed, marking the worst clash of its kind between the two Asian powers in 45 years.
In a phone conversation, Indian Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi agreed to handle the situation “in a responsible manner” and ensure “peace and tranquility,” according to a statement released by the Indian ministry of external affairs.
During the discussion, both leaders agreed to implement the understanding on disengagement reached in a meeting between military leaders of both sides on Jun. 6, nearly a month after the armed forces had engaged in another brief but aggressive skirmish close to the de-facto border between the two sides, according a Chinese statement.
Earlier in the day Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said in a televised speech that India wanted peace with China but “if provoked, it is capable of giving a fitting reply under any circumstances.”
In his first reaction to the clash, which took place on Monday night even though the casualties were revealed a day later, Modi held two-minutes of silence to pay homage to the deceased soldiers and offered his condolences to their families.
“We have always tried to work in a friendly and cooperative manner with our neighbors and tried to prevent differences from turning into disputes,” said the prime minister.
“We never provoke anyone but also do not compromise with the integrity and sovereignty of the country.”
His comments came after the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian had alleged in a press conference earlier on Wednesday that Indian soldiers had “provoked and attacked the Chinese,” triggering the clash.
“China and India are in close communication on resolving the border issues through diplomatic and military channels” and “maintain peace and tranquility in border areas,” said Zhao, according to official Chinese daily Global Times.
However, the spokesperson insisted that it was “very clear” that the incident “happened on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) (the de-facto border), and the responsibility did not rest with China.”
“They crossed the border twice to conduct illegal activities and launched provocative attacks against Chinese personnel, leading to a serious encounter between troops from both sides.”
On the other hand, India has laid the blame squarely on the Chinese shoulders for the clash in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed and said both sides had suffered casualties, although Beijing has not confirmed any losses so far.
“(The) violent face-off happened as a result of an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo. Both sides suffered casualties that could have been avoided had the agreement at the higher level been scrupulously followed by the Chinese side,” Zhao’s Indian counterpart Anurag Srivastava said in a press statement on Tuesday.
Despite the serious nature of the incident, the clash did not involve the use of firearms on either side, former Indian army officer SL Narasimhan, an expert on China who still maintains strong links to the Indian armed forces, told EFE.
,”I can confirm to you that there has been no firing that has happened, it was a scuffle coming to blows, stone throwing etc,” said the retired Lieutenant General.
The clash has led to the Indian prime minister’s office calling for meeting of all major political parties on Friday to discuss the border standoff.
“In order to discuss the situation in the India-China border areas, Prime Minister @narendramodi has called for an all-party meeting at 5 PM on 19th June. Presidents of various political parties would take part in this virtual meeting,” the PMO tweeted on Wednesday.
Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh also tweeted condolences to the family members of the 20 deceased soldiers.
The border spat and the death of Indian soldiers unleashed a string of anti-China protests across India on Wednesday, including the cities of New Delhi, Bengaluru and Jammu, where dozens of people gathered to shout slogans against the neighboring country and burned photographs of Chinese President Xi Jinping.