Indian and Chinese military commanders parleyed on Monday to ease tensions at their contested border, as the public mood hardened in India for a military and economic riposte to China following the worst clash in over five decades.
An Indian government source said corps commanders from both sides met in Moldo, on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control, the de facto border dividing India’s Ladakh region from the Chinese held Aksai Chin, high in the western Himalayas.
Lower ranking officers had attended the first parley last Thursday after the brutal clash on June 15, when soldiers fought with rocks, metal rods and wooden clubs.
While blaming each other’s forces for the bloodshed, the two governments have sought to avoid any escalation that could risk further conflict between the two nuclear armed states.
Under long observed protocols, both militaries refrain from firing weapons, and the last time there was a deadly clash on the disputed border was in 1967.
The Indian Foreign Ministry has, however, described the fighting that left 20 Indian soldiers dead and at least 76 injured as a “pre-meditated and planned action” by China.
For its part, China has accused Indian troops of violating a military agreement, and provoking and attacking its troops in the Galwan Valley in Ladakh. China has not disclosed how many casualties it suffered, though an Indian minister has said around 40 Chinese soldiers may have been killed.
Shocked and angered by the death of their soldiers, Indians have been calling for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationalist government to show India will not be bullied, bitterly remembering their country’s humiliation in a war against China in 1962.
Members of an Indian traders’ body made a bonfire of Chinese goods at a bazaar in New Delhi, pushing for a nationwide boycott of products made in China.
The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), which represents some 70 million traders, has asked federal and state governments to support a boycott of Chinese goods and cancel government contracts awarded to Chinese companies.
“The entire nation is filled with extreme anger and intensity to give a strong befitting response to China not only militarily but also economically,” CAIT National General Secretary Praveen Khandelwal wrote in a letter to chief ministers of some Indian states.
China is India’s second-biggest trading partner, with bilateral trade worth $87 billion in the fiscal year ending March 2019, and a trade deficit of $53.57 billion in China’s favour, the widest India has with any country.
The traders’ body, which advocates self reliance and supports Modi’s nationalist policies, has also asked the federal commerce ministry to amend rules and make it mandatory for e-commerce platforms to mark the country of origin for all products.
“Most of the e-commerce portals are selling Chinese goods for which the consumer remains unaware,” CAIT said in a statement.
The editor-in-chief of China’s Global Times newspaper warned that the “nationalists of India need to cool down.” The Global Times is published by the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party.
“China’s GDP is 5 times that of India, military spending is 3 times,” Global Times editor Hu Xijin said in a post on Twitter.
The confrontation in the Himalayas means Modi now has to reassess relations with China, posing possibly the most difficult foreign policy questions he has faced so far.
“At this moment, we stand at an historic crossroads,” former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement, “Our government’s decisions and actions will have serious bearings on how the future generations perceive us.”