THE fifth round of talks between the Commander of XIV Corps Lt General Harinder Singh and his Chinese counterpart Major General Liu Lin, Commander of the South Xinjiang Military Region, began on Sunday to try and find a resolution to the stalemate at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh.
The meeting — continuing until late evening — took place on the Chinese side of the Chushul-Moldo Border Personnel Meeting (BPM), which is south of the Pangong Tso lake that has become a major point of contention between the forces.
The military standoff began early May after Chinese and Indian troops came to blows on the north bank of the lake.
Since their last round of discussions, lasting 15 hours on July 14, there has not been much of a breakthrough on the ground as disengagement has not been completed at two of the four friction points.
The two sides began a mutual pullback at all these points after the third round of military talks on June 30 but the stalemate persists in the Gogra Post sector and on the north bank of Pangong Tso.
Top sources in the Army said that around 50 soldiers continue to remain within a 1-km distance of each other on either side at Patrolling Points 17A (PP17A) in the Gogra Post sector.
In Pangong Tso, Chinese troops had come up to Finger 4 on the north bank, 8 km west of Finger 8 which India says marks the LAC. As part of the disengagement process, the Chinese vacated the Finger 4 base area and headed towards Finger 5. But they still occupy positions on the ridgeline at Finger 4.
Complete disengagement was achieved at PP15 in Hot Springs area and PP14 in Galwan Valley, which was the site of the violent clashes on June 15, in which India lost 20 soldiers, and China, too, suffered an undeclared number of casualties. There has been a significant trust deficit between both sides since.
While the focus in the military talks is on Pangong Tso and PP17A, where the Chinese have dug their heels in, Indian troops are also unable to access their patrolling points in Depsang Plains.
Chinese troops have blocked India at the bottleneck or Y-Junction in the Depsang Plains area, which is around 30 km from the strategically important Daulat Beg Oldie post of India, close to the Karakoram pass in the north.
The senior military commanders had met on the Chinese side at Moldo on June 6 and 22. The third and fourth round of talks on June 30 and July 14 respectively had taken place at Chushul, on the Indian side.
On Friday, China’s Ambassador to India Sun Weidong had said that “China’s traditional customary boundary line is in accordance with the LAC” on the north bank of the lake and had denied that China had expanded its territorial claims there.
Responding to this, spokesperson for Ministry of External Affairs Anurag Srivastava had said that “there has been some progress made towards this objective, but the disengagement process has as yet not been completed”.
Significantly, reacting to the Chinese envoy’s comments, former Army Chief General V P Malik on Friday tweeted: “By his statement yesterday, Ambassador Sun Weidong of China has virtually ended any possible progress in LAC talks between military commanders”.
Both sides have also increased their military presence in the depth areas. China has brought in artillery guns, air defence radars along with additional troops. India has moved in additional divisions, air force assets and air defence assets. And has begun preparations for winter deployment of an additional 35,000 troops given the long haul ahead.
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