With the crisis in Ladakh deepening after Indian troops occupied key heights and thwarted Chinese moves in the Chushul sector, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi will meet over lunch in Moscow Thursday to try and dial down tensions on the Line of Actual Control.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that Jaishankar and Wang will have a luncheon meeting, hosted by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Tensions have surged in Ladakh where 5000-7000 Chinese troops, backed by tanks and artillery, are in a faceoff with Indian troops who took key heights along the stretch from the Pangong Tso south bank to Rechin La on August 29-30 to turn the tables on the PLA. The Chinese have been reluctant to complete troop disengagement on the Pangong Tso north bank and at Gogra Post. Nearly 50,000 Chinese troops have massed along the Ladakh frontier, and the Indian Army has mirrored the deployment.
Army sources said at Mukpari, where shots were fired Monday evening, a first at the LAC in 45 years, 30-40 Chinese troops continue to be 200-300 metres away from Indian positions. The Chinese troops, sources said, “have not moved back”.
On the north bank of Pangong Tso too, troops of the two sides are 500 metres from each other on the ridgeline between Finger 3 and Finger 4, sources said.
Given the tense situation in Ladakh, all eyes are on the meeting between Jaishankar and Wang in Moscow. This will be the second meeting of Foreign Ministers of Russia-India-China, the RIC grouping, since the LAC standoff began early May.
The last meeting, held via videoconference on June 23, was the first face-time between Jaishankar and Wang after the Galwan Valley clash. They had spoken to each over phone on June 17, two days after the incident in which 20 Indian Army personnel and an unspecified number of Chinese troops were killed in clashes.
On Wednesday, Lavrov said, “We highly appreciate an opportunity to discuss the development of strategic partnership in all areas: bilateral relations, cooperation within the frameworks of SCO, BRICS and UN”.
Jaishankar tweeted, “Pleasure to meet FM Sergey Lavrov, this time in person. Excellent talks that reflect our Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership. Value our exchanges on the international situation.”
Meanwhile, a senior Army officer said that at the brigade commander level talks, India has let China know about certain “red lines” that their troops should not cross.
Indian troops have created “wire obstacles” near their positions on the heights, the officer said, and “we have told them that these are red lines”.
He said each time the Chinese troops approach Indian positions, “we send them a message through the hotline, and through loudspeakers on the ground” telling them not to come close.
The Chinese, he said, have been trying to “dislodge” Indian troops from their new positions at multiple locations, almost daily.
The officer said Indian troops on the north bank have also moved to occupy “more dominating heights” near the Finger 4 ridgeline occupied by China since May. The heights occupied by India are not at Finger 3, but in the “knuckle area” or the place where all the spurs meet towards the north.
“Not much has changed in terms of the ground positions in the last few days,” the officer said, adding that the Chinese did try to move west of Finger 4 on their boats, but turned back.
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