Updated: June 8, 2020 6:54:41 am
Signalling it was prepared for the long haul in its dealings with Beijing over the faceoff along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh, New Delhi Sunday said “the two sides will continue the military and diplomatic engagements to resolve the situation and to ensure peace and tranquility in the border areas”.
In first remarks after the marathon meeting Saturday between Indian and Chinese army commanders at the Chushul-Moldo border point, the Ministry of External Affairs, in a statement, said it “took place in a cordial and positive atmosphere”.
The statement underlined the “agreement between the leaders” of the two countries — announced after the informal summits between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan and Mahabalipuram — that “peace and tranquility in the India-China border regions is essential for the overall development of bilateral relations”.
“Both sides also noted that this year marked the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries and agreed that an early resolution would contribute to the further development of the relationship,” the MEA said.
Sources said the discussions between the two sides was “frank”, and that South Block had got a sense of Beijing’s “sensitivities” following the talks Saturday and a videoconference of diplomats Friday.
“This will be a long haul and small steps need to be taken to resolve the situation,” sources said, indicating that talks will continue at the Brigadier-level and the field level regularly and at the level of Joint Secretaries.
At the meeting Saturday, where the team leaders were Lt General Harinder Singh, XIV Corps Commander, and Major General Liu Lin, Commander of South Xinjiang Military District, the Indian side conveyed to the Chinese its central point about restoration of status quo ante in certain areas of eastern Ladakh along the LAC.
An official said this was done by sharing comprehensive details of Chinese deployments as of April – and to which locations India wants the Chinese to go back — before the current round of tensions began.
The Indian delegation also gave details of patrolling limits in various areas, followed hitherto but now being denied by the Chinese, and sought their restoration.
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A key issue in these talks was about the Pangong Tso area, where the Chinese have moved westward by 8 km, pitching tents and deploying soldiers according to their “perception” of the LAC. Besides altering the status quo, this has also meant that Indian patrols can no longer go up to the LAC, as marked in Army maps.
The Indian side, sources said, raised the issue of the high number of Chinese troops and the aggression shown.
While there was acknowledgement that aggressive behaviour must be dialled down, sources said the Indian side conveyed that patrolling must not be stopped. The Chinese side said they will look into it, but they also pointed to the building of Indian infrastructure.
The Chinese build-up in the Galwan region is also at the heart of the standoff. Chinese commanders and officials have insisted that there is “nothing unusual” about the deployment on their side of the LAC. This refusal to acknowledge the problem is being seen as a sign of their “intransigence” in the Galwan area, sources said.
The build-up in the Galwan area is worrying because it threatens the 255-km Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) road and access to forward posts near the Karakoram Pass.
The Saturday talks lasted more than six hours. “Essentially, the conversation was more than three hours, since constant translation takes time,” sources said.
The positive takeaway, sources said, is that the two sides agreed to keep talking — possibly at working levels — to address each other’s concerns.
After the meeting, the Army briefed the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of External Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office.
Meanwhile, preparing for the eventuality of a stalemate, the Army has started making plans for extended deployment in the high-altitude terrain. After the delayed initial response due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Army moved a large number of troops and heavy military equipment into the area, mirroring the Chinese deployment.
The challenge with these plans for extended deployment is to prepare for habitat and logistics for soldiers and equipment during the harsh Ladakh winter. This will stretch the Army’s resources in a tough economic environment – Army Chief General M M Naravane had told a seminar last month that the government had already asked the Army for a 20 per cent budget cut – at a time when the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan has become highly active and militancy too is rearing its head again in Kashmir.
A related challenge for the Army, an official said, is to ensure that the PLA provides no more surprises at other places on the LAC. These fears stem from the recent incidents in areas such as Galwan, Hot Spring and Naku La where the two sides had agreed on the LAC. It would mean committing a substantial number of troops and equipment to operational roles.
Meanwhile, China’s Global Times, a tabloid which often echoes the views of the ruling Communist Party of China, reported “large scale manoeuvre” by the PLA in which thousands of paratroopers and armoured vehicles can be deployed in “just a few hours”.
“The mobilization operation came at a time when China and India face a new wave of tensions due to high altitude border issues, as reports say both sides have reinforced their border defences,” its report stated.
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