• The Star Staff

India captures Chinese soldier along disputed mountain border


By Jeffrey Gettleman


Indian troops fed the captured Chinese soldier a meal. They gave him oxygen and some warm clothes. They treated him respectfully, both sides indicated, and the Indians said that they planned to release him soon.


The Indian military revealed Monday that its forces had captured a Chinese corporal who had strayed across the disputed, unmarked high-altitude border that zigzags between the two nations, the first time a soldier had been reported captured since hostilities exploded between India and China in June.


The friendly treatment seemed to signal that maybe, finally, after rounds and rounds of talks, tensions were slightly easing between the Indian and Chinese troops positioned high up in the Himalayas. In June, a vicious brawl erupted in the same area, along the rocky edges of India’s Ladakh region, in which 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese troops were killed.


Late on Monday, the Chinese military confirmed that one of its personnel had ended up in Indian hands. A soldier became lost on Sunday evening after agreeing to help a herder find a missing yak, Senior Col. Zhang Shuili, a spokesman for the People’s Liberation Army’s Western Theater Command, said in a statement on a Chinese military website.


The Chinese forces asked for help from their Indian counterparts, who “agreed to give support and also promised to promptly return” the soldier, Zhang said. “We hope that the Indian side will abide by its promise and quickly transfer the individual who became lost back to the Chinese side.”


Hu Xijin, editor of The Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party newspaper, said that Beijing and New Delhi were “working toward a proper resolution,” and that it appeared the captured Chinese soldier had gotten lost.


“This matter should not cause new tensions in the border area,” he wrote in a post on the social media site Weibo. “The smooth resolution of this matter is also a sign that the two countries have made progress in recent negotiations.”


The Indian army said in a statement Monday that its troops had provided the food, clothing and other aid to the Chinese soldier to “protect him from the vagaries of extreme altitude and harsh climatic conditions” and that he would be released “after completion of formalities.”


Since June, Indian and Chinese officials have been meeting regularly. Both countries have nuclear weapons and they seem to want a way out of the crisis, but both are also led by strong-willed nationalists unwilling to back down.


The border area is considered strategically important. It snakes through icy mountain passes that rise higher than 15,000 feet and touches several contentious territories, such as Tibet and Kashmir. It has been a sore spot for decades. In 1962, the two nations went to war over the same area and China won, taking firm control of a high-altitude plateau, Aksai Chin, that India wants back.


After the brawl in June, in which Chinese troops used spiked iron clubs to beat Indian soldiers to death, tens of thousands of reinforcements rushed in. Military analysts say that the troops remain dangerously close, in many places just a few hundred yards apart, and that they are backed up by fighter jets, tanks, artillery pieces and armored personnel carriers.


Several soldiers were captured during the June fighting and in the smaller brawls that led up to it in April and May.


A few shots were even fired in September, breaking India and China’s long-standing agreement not to use firearms during border confrontations.


Since then, though, it appears that both sides have invested more in the effort to talk out their differences. Indian and Chinese military officials have held seven rounds of discussions, and Indian officials said in a recent statement that they had “a sincere, in-depth and constructive exchange of views on disengagement” with their Chinese counterparts.


But some Indian analysts said they were still a little suspicious.


“The winter’s going to be tough,” said D.S. Hooda, a retired general.


“I know that the Indian army has considerable experience in operating in Ladakh during the winter months,” he said. “The PLA also seems to be building habitat for housing troops during the winter,” referring to China’s forces, known as the People’s Liberation Army.


Hooda said that during night patrols, soldiers sometimes inadvertently strayed across the border, which he said was most likely what had happened in the case of the captured Chinese soldier.

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