June 18, 2020 / 2:13 PM / 2 months ago

Indians hold funerals for soldiers killed at China border, burn portraits of Xi

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indians burned portraits of Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday as families cremated some of the 20 soldiers killed in hand-to-hand fighting with Chinese troops in a disputed mountainous border region.

SENSITIVE MATERIAL. THIS IMAGE MAY OFFEND OR DISTURB Army officers salute to pay tribute to Sunil Kumar, an Indian soldier who was killed in a border clash with Chinese troops in Ladakh region, before his cremation in Maner, in the eastern state of Bihar, India, June 18, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer

Troops remained on alert at the Galwan Valley in the Ladakh region of the western Himalayas three days after the clashes, in which India said China had also suffered casualties. China has not given details of deaths or injuries among its troops.

Despite the tensions, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar will take part in a previously scheduled virtual meeting with counterparts from Russia and China on June 23, foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said in New Delhi.

Jaishankar spoke to senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi on Wednesday and they agreed not to take any steps to escalate matters. An Indian official said senior military officers from both sides were holding talks on Thursday to defuse tensions.

But Jaishankar and Wang Yi traded blame for the deadliest border clash since 1967 and called for the other side to rein in its troops.

“The need of the hour was for (the) Chinese side to reassess its action and take corrective action,” the Indian foreign ministry quoted Jaishankar as telling Wang.

Wang said India must punish those responsible for the conflict and control its frontline troops, the Chinese foreign ministry said.

Hardline nationalist groups with ties to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party have stepped up calls for a boycott of Chinese goods and a cancellation of contracts with Chinese firms.

China’s Oppo cancelled the live online launch of its flagship smartphone in India.

Scores of people shouted “Victory to Mother India” as the body of Colonel B. Santosh Babu, the most senior Indian officer killed in the clashes, was taken in a military truck decked out with flowers to his hometown of Suryapet in southern India.

Funerals of other soldiers will be held in their hometowns and villages.

Residents in the northern city of Kanpur held a mock funeral of Xi and burned his portrait, shouting anti-China slogans. In Cuttack in eastern India, an effigy of Xi and a Chinese flag were burned.

In the western Indian city of Surat, a group of people threw a Chinese-made television on the ground and stomped on it in protest on Wednesday.

“In the current situation, the China issue should not be taken lightly,” Food and Consumer Affairs minister Ram Vilas Paswan told the Economic Times. “In many cases, there may be Chinese money invested, but I think the regular things we buy from the market, one should certainly make sure that we avoid Chinese products.”

STRIDENT NATIONALIST

Russia, which is close to both nations, said it hoped India and China would find mutually acceptable ways to ensure security on their border, Interfax news agency reported.

Tension with China, whose economy is five times bigger than India’s and which spends three times as much money on its military, has become Modi’s most serious foreign policy challenge since he took power in 2014.

A strident nationalist, Modi was elected to a second five-year term in May 2019 following a campaign focused on national security after spiralling tensions with Pakistan, on India’s western border. He is under pressure from the opposition and media to respond strongly to China.

Slideshow (10 Images)

China and India fought a brief border war in 1962 and have had occasional flare-ups when patrols have confronted each other at the poorly defined Line of Actual Control, the de facto border.

Under agreements in the 1990s, the sides have said they will not use arms near the border. But on Monday night, hundreds of soldiers fought with iron rods and clubs studded with nails for several hours.

Indian shares closed higher on Thursday, rising sharply in afternoon trade after Beijing said a fresh coronavirus outbreak was under control.

Additional reporting by Fayaz Bukhari in Srinagar, Chandni Monappa in Bengaluru, Sumeet Khanna in Ahmedabad, Jatindra Dash in Bhubaneshwar, and Devjyot Ghoshal in New Delhi; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Timothy Heritage

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