Updated: January 25, 2021 8:01:05 am
SENIOR MILITARY commanders from India and China met on Sunday for the ninth round of talks to discuss a possible solution to the nearly nine-month border standoff in eastern Ladakh.
The meeting, which began around 10 am on the Chinese side of the Chushul-Moldo Border Personnel Meeting (BPM) point, continued until evening.
The latest effort came two-and-a-half months after the last round of discussions between the two sides on November 6, with around 50,000 troops deployed in the region, along with additional artillery, tanks, and air defence assets.
It followed a memo from India for talks while the two countries maintained regular contact through the hotline and other mechanisms to prevent any untoward incident that could complicate the situation. In the last few months, India returned two Chinese soldiers who had strayed across the Line of Actual Control in separate incidents.
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On Sunday, the Indian delegation was led by Lt Gen P G K Menon, XIV Corps Commander, which is responsible for the LAC in eastern Ladakh, and included another senior military officer from Delhi. Naveen Srivastava, Additional Secretary (East Asia) in the Ministry of External Affairs, was also present.
This is the fourth time that Srivastava, who has been leading the Indian side in meetings of the Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC), was part of the military discussions. The WMCC talks last took place on December 18.
The Chinese delegation was led by Major General Liu Lin, commander of the South Xinjiang Military Region.
The standoff began early May last year, when the Chinese came in 8 km west of the point that India says marks the LAC on the north bank of Pangong Tso. Although there was a degree of disengagement beginning early June, China did not complete the move from several friction points.
The standoff escalated on June 15 last year when Indian and Chinese troops clashed during disengagement in Galwan Valley near Patrol Point 14, resulting in 20 Indian soldiers and an undisclosed number of Chinese troops being killed.
Since then, both sides have bolstered their military strength in the region.
In late August, Indian troops took the Chinese by surprise to occupy strategic heights in the south bank of Pangong Tso in the Chushul sub-sector to overlook China’s Moldo garrison and the strategically sensitive Spanggur Gap. India repositioned its troops on Pangong Tso’s north bank as well.
This push for heights led to warning shots being fired by the two sides. At several of these heights, troops from both sides are positioned just a few hundred metres apart from each other.
During subsequent military discussions, China demanded that Indian troops move back in the Chushul sub-sector. India demanded status quo ante, seeking the return of all troops in the region to their original positions as of April 2020, and stressed that any resolution has to be for the entire region.
There have recently been indications that while China is open to troops moving back to their original positions, the two sides are unable to work out details of disengagement, especially pertaining to who would step back first and from where.
On January 12, addressing his annual press conference ahead of Army Day, Army Chief General M M Naravane expressed the hope that both sides “will be able to reach an agreement which would result in disengagement and de-escalation” based on the “principle of mutual and equal security”.
Naravane, however, also said that India is prepared to hold its ground “as long as it takes to achieve our national goals and interests”.
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