The Chinese have erected tents on the Indian side of the Charding Nala in Demchok in eastern Ladakh, senior government officials said.
The officials described the people occupying these tents as “so-called civilians”, and said that even though India has been asking them to go back, “their presence remains”.
Demchok has seen face-offs between Indian and Chinese troops earlier too. The two sides had agreed that Demchok and Trig Heights were disputed points on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) during meetings of the India-China joint working groups (JWG) back in the 1990s.
Later, following the exchange of maps, 10 areas of differing perception of the LAC were recognised: Samar Lungpa, Depsang Bulge, Point 6556, Changlung Nala, Kongka La, Pangong Tso north bank, Spanggur, Mount Sajun, Dumchele, and Chumar.
Besides these 12 areas that are either mutually agreed as disputed or where the two sides have differing perceptions of where the LAC lies, five friction points have been added to the LAC in eastern Ladakh over the last year, after the current stand-off began, officials said.
These five friction points are KM120 in the Galwan Valley, PP15 and PP17A in the Shyok Sula area, Rechin La, and Rezang La, officials said.
China had proposed the 12th round of Corps Commander-level talks on Monday, but India, which observes July 26 as Kargil Day to commemorate the victory over Pakistan in the 1999 Kargil War, asked for the discussions to be postponed by a few days. The Corps Commander-level talks are now likely to take place in the first week of August, or perhaps earlier, sources said.
The last Corps Commander-level talks to discuss the disengagement and eventual de-escalation in eastern Ladakh, where India and China are involved in a stand-off since May 2020, were held in April this year.
Officials who are aware of the details, however, said the delay in the talks at the Corps Commander level notwithstanding, the two sides have been in constant touch over the hotline. Since the standoff began, the two sides have exchanged messages nearly 1,500 times over the hotlines at Daulat Beg Oldie and Chushul, the officials said.
Sources said the talks have not progressed because India has been pushing for disengagement from all the friction points first, while China wants de-escalation, and for the additional troops in the depth areas to go back to their original bases, before the rest of the friction points are disengaged.
A senior government official said the “situation is stable” currently. While it is not yet “2019 level”, it is “much better” than last year, the official said. There have not been “any transgressions” by China since February, nor any face-offs between the two armies.
“They are willing to disengage, but they like to negotiate,” the official said. Disengagement will happen, he said, “but it will take time”.
Troops from the two sides are currently “not eyeball-to-eyeball” anywhere, the official said. The delay in finding a resolution was because of the loss of trust, and that is the reason why both sides continue to have nearly 50,000 troops each deployed in the region, he said.
Sources said China has been rotating its troops in eastern Ladakh, and is developing “military infrastructure at a very fast pace”, including billeting, ammunition points, and artillery positions. In their depth areas, nearly four divisions of Chinese troops are positioned along the G219 highway that passes through Aksai Chin, connecting the troubled Xinjiang and Tibet provinces, the sources said.
India too has used this time to upgrade its defence works and infrastructure, and to induct new-generation equipment in the region.
During the winter, as both sides positioned an unprecedented number of troops on the north bank of Pangong Tso and on the heights of the Kailash Range in the Chushul sub-sector, China was rotating its troops as quickly as within 10 days.
It was this region, where warning shots had been fired in August-September, a first in decades for the border between the two countries, that disengagement began in February. Both sides pulled back their troops and armoured columns, which at the height of the standoff were just a few hundred metres apart at Rezang La and Rechin La.
The tenth round of discussions for the other friction points had taken place within 48 hours of that disengagement, on February 20, but no breakthrough was achieved. Platoon-sized units of Chinese troops continue to be on the Indian side of the LAC at Patrolling Points 15 and 17A, and continue to block Indian troops from accessing their patrolling limits at the Bottleneck in Depsang Plains.
The senior government official said that Indian troops were positioned at all strategic places.
He said that if China tries to reoccupy the Kailash Range heights again, “we will go elsewhere”. He added that a “clear message” has been given that if there is any attempt by them, the “next level of escalation will be much higher”.