Trump says he spoke to Modi about India-China tensions, India says no

It is not the first time India has denied contact between the two leaders. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Did US President Donald Trump speak with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the phone to discuss the South Asian nation's border tensions with China?

Mr Trump, who reiterated his offer to mediate between New Delhi and Beijing over the rising temperatures at their border, told a reporter in Washington on Thursday (May 28) that he spoke to Mr Modi. The Indian government says no such conversation took place.

"They have a big conflict going with India and China. Two countries with 1.4 billion people. Two countries with very powerful militaries," Mr Trump told reporters, according to a White House transcript. "And India is not happy, and probably China is not happy."

"But I can tell you, I did speak to Prime Minister Modi. He's not - he's not in a good mood about what's going on with China," Trump said of his chat with the Indian leader.

The comments followed a Twitter post the previous day in which Mr Trump said the United States had told India and China that it was ready to arbitrate their "raging border dispute", the first time he has thrown himself into India-China diplomacy.

But Indian officials expressed surprise at Mr Trump's latest remarks.

When asked for details of the phone call, India's foreign ministry said in a statement on Friday that Mr Modi has not spoken to the US president since April 4 when the leaders discussed shipping hydroxychloroquine from India.

There has been no conversation around the recent border stand-off with China, and New Delhi was directly in touch with the Chinese government through established mechanisms and diplomatic contacts, the foreign ministry said.

Mr Trump had tweeted the offer to mediate between the two countries on Wednesday.

On Friday, China's foreign ministry said there was no need for a third party to mediate.

India and China are locked in a border stand-off, after several rounds of talks failed to ease tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals. Both countries lay claim to thousands of kilometres of territory in each other's possession along a vast stretch of the Himalayas.

They went to war in 1962 and have not been able to settle the border since, prompting occasional flare-ups between border troops.

Military observers say one likely reason for the renewed border tension in the Ladakh sector is India's effort to build new airstrips and roads near the de-facto border to try to narrow the gap with China's superior infrastructure.

During talks to resolve the crisis, the Chinese side have demanded that India stop all construction activity in the area, saying the whole area is disputed, one of the sources said.

It's not the first time India has denied contact between the two leaders. In July, Mr Trump said Mr Modi had asked him to intervene in India and Pakistan's decades-long dispute over Kashmir. Again, India denied any such conversation took place.

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