China’s military has said it hopes India will honour its pledge to swiftly return a Chinese soldier, found lost along their mountainous and contested border zone, where both militaries have been locked in a tense standoff for decades.
India said on Monday that the soldier, Corporal Wang Ya Long, had been apprehended inside Indian-controlled Ladakh’s Demchok area and was to be released soon.
It said the soldier “had strayed” across the de facto border along the eastern section of what is known as the Line of Actual Control, a loose demarcation separating Indian- and Chinese-controlled areas.
“As per established protocols, he will be returned back to Chinese officials at the Chushul–Moldo meeting point after completion of formalities,” the statement said.
In Beijing, the defence ministry said late on Monday the soldier had been helping herders round up yaks when he lost his way on Sunday evening.
The Chinese side informed their Indian counterparts of the missing individual and were later told he had been found and would be returned after a medical checkup, Zhang Shuili a spokesperson for the Western Theater Command, was quoted as saying.
The high-altitude standoff between the two countries erupted in early May with hand-to-hand combat with clubs, stones and fists on 15 June that killed 20 Indian soldiers. China is believed to also have had casualties, but has not given any details.
China detained at least 10 Indian soldiers, including four officers, following the deadly brawl. They were returned three days later after intense military and diplomatic negotiations.
India and China have each stationed tens of thousands of soldiers backed by artillery, tanks and fighter jets along border areas and are bracing for a harsh winter in the cold-desert region, where temperatures can fall to minus 50 degrees Celsius.
The nuclear-armed rivals have also accused each other of crossing into rival territory and of firing shots for the first time in 45 years.
Relations between the two countries have often been strained, partly due to the lack of a defined border. They fought a border war in 1962 that spilled into Ladakh and ended in an uneasy truce. Since then, troops have guarded the border region.
India unilaterally declared Ladakh a federal territory and separated it from disputed Kashmir in August 2019, ending Indian-administered Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status. It also vowed to take back the Aksai Chin plateau.
China was among the first countries to strongly condemn the move, raising it at international forums including the UN security council.