NEW DELHI – Indian troops fed the captured Chinese soldiers a meal. They gave him oxygen and warm clothes. They treated him respectfully, both sides reported, and the Indians said they intended to release him soon.
The Indian military announced Monday that its armed forces had captured a Chinese non-commissioned officer who had strayed over the controversial, unmarked height limit in the zigzag between the two nations. This marked the first time a soldier has been captured since hostilities between India and China exploded in June.
The friendly treatment seemed to signal that tensions between the Indian and Chinese troops, positioned high up in the Himalayas, may have eased somewhat after rounds and talks. In June, a violent brawl broke out in the same area on the rocky fringes of India’s Ladakh region, killing 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese troops.
Hu Xijin, editor of The Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party newspaper, said Beijing and New Delhi “are working towards an appropriate solution” and that the captured Chinese soldier appears to be lost.
“This matter shouldn’t create new tensions in the border area,” he wrote in a post on the Weibo social media site. “The smooth resolution of this matter is also a sign that the two countries have made progress in the last negotiations.”
The Indian army said in a statement Monday that its troops provided the Chinese soldier with food, clothing and other relief supplies to “protect him from the uncertainties of extreme altitude and harsh climatic conditions,” and that he “after Completion “would be released from formalities. “
Indian and Chinese officials have been meeting regularly since June. Both countries have nuclear weapons and seem to want a way out of the crisis, but both are also led by strong-willed nationalists who are unwilling to withdraw.
The border area is seen as strategically important. It meanders through icy mountain passes rising over 15,000 feet and touching several disputed areas such as Tibet and Kashmir. It’s been a sore point for decades. In 1962, the two nations went to war over the same area and China won and took firm control of a high plateau, Aksai Chin, that India wants back.
Tens of thousands of reinforcements stormed in after the June brawl in which Chinese troops beat Indian soldiers to death with pointed iron clubs. Military analysts say the troops stay dangerously close together in many places that are only a few hundred meters apart, that they are supported by fighter jets, tanks, artillery pieces and armored personnel carriers.
Several soldiers were captured during the fighting in June and the minor brawls that led to it in April and May.
Some shots were even fired in September in violation of India’s and China’s longstanding agreements not to use firearms in border confrontations.
Since then, both sides seem to have invested more in efforts to resolve their differences. Indian and Chinese military officials held seven roundtables, and Indian officials said in a recent statement that they had “a sincere, thorough and constructive exchange of views” with their Chinese counterparts on the withdrawal.
However, some Indian analysts said they are still somewhat suspicious.
“Winter is going to be tough,” said DS Hooda, a retired general.
“I know the Indian Army has considerable experience operating in Ladakh during the winter months,” he said. “The PLA seems to provide habitat for troops even in winter,” refers to China’s armed forces, known as the People’s Liberation Army.
Mr. Hooda said soldiers sometimes accidentally strayed across the border during night patrols, which most likely happened in the case of the captured Chinese soldier.
Hari Kumar reported from New Delhi and Steven Lee Myers from Seoul, South Korea.