As tensions between India and China escalate over a border dispute in the Himalayas, Indian boxer Vijender Singh is seeking peace with an unusual gesture.
After besting his Chinese rival, Zulpikar Maimaitiali, on points in a title fight on Saturday in Mumbai, the 31-year-old Olympic bronze medalist extended an olive branch to his opponent ― by offering to return the belt he’d just won.
“I don’t want this title. I will give it back to Zulpikar,” Singh, who retained his WBO Asia Pacific super middleweight title and snagged his rival’s WBO Oriental super middleweight belt, told reporters after the fight, according to The Guardian. “I don’t want tension on the border. It’s a message of peace. That’s important.”
According to the Times of India, a general feeling of goodwill was apparent between the two boxers following the fight, though it’s unclear whether Maimaitiali was aware of Singh’s peace offering at the time. The paper reported that the Chinese boxer, who had been wearing a traditional hat from the northwestern region in China where he’s from, gave Singh the headgear to wear and embraced his opponent.
But Singh said that when he offered Maimaitiali the belt, “he couldn’t understand it.”
“I wanted to give a message by giving away the belt so that the tension at the border between India and China reduces. The environment at the border is very bad at the moment. ... I hope [the Chinese] media and people will get the message,” Singh told NDTV.
The boxer later reiterated this message on Twitter:
China and India have been butting heads for several weeks over a territorial dispute on a plateau near the mountainous Indian state of Sikkim. Both sides have blamed the other for trespassing on territory that is not theirs.
Bhutan and China have both claimed the plateau, known as Doklam, as their own. The plateau is not part of India, but is strategically important to that country. Doklam “is extremely close to a very vulnerable stretch of Indian territory that effectively connects the bulk of India to its northeastern states,” Shashank Joshi, senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, told CNN.
On Thursday, China said India had been “illegally” building up troops and repairing roads on its territory ― a claim India denies. A report over the weekend suggested China was considering military action to force India out of Doklam.
Even before his fight on Saturday, the dispute with China had clearly been on Singh’s mind. Speaking to the Hindustan Times last week, he said the standoff would certainly “impact” the match.
“It is, at the end of the day, an India-vs.-China bout and given the current situation, I feel a sense of responsibility to make India proud,” Singh said.