Within hours of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj stating that the standoff between India and China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) had ended, Chinese troops started pulling out of Chumar, the centre of a 16-day standoff between troops of the two countries. By Friday afternoon, almost “half” the Chinese troops along the LAC had withdrawn, officials said.
While Swaraj said the withdrawal “would begin today (Friday) and end by September 30”, sources said that going by the current rate of disengagement, the process may finish sooner. Both sides have agreed to return to “pre-September 10 positions”, officials said.
“The withdrawal has started and troops will return to pre-September 10 positions. The plan of disengagement was agreed upon in a flag meeting on Thursday evening,” an official from the Ministry of Defence said. However, despite four flag meetings — including three inconclusive ones last week — the issue was largely solved by diplomatic intervention. Things moved forward after Chinese ambassador Le Yucheng met senior officials of the External Affairs Ministry on Wednesday, followed by Swaraj’s meeting with Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi in New York on Thursday. “I am happy to tell you that both nations have sat down and resolved the issue.
Timelines have been decided,” Swaraj told reporters in New York.
“China had requested us for a flag meeting on Monday, but the decision rested with the Centre. It was only after the Chinese ambassador met External Affairs Ministry officials on Wednesday that the nod for holding a flag meeting on the border was given. This resulted in Thursday’s flag meeting,” a senior Defence Ministry official said.
The details of the flag meeting or the conditions for the withdrawal could not be obtained. The standoff, what began after the Indian side objected to the construction of a road by China on September 10, is learnt to have highlighted the Chinese side’s concerns regarding the “high ground” that Indian troops occupy in Chumar. “Besides the larger, strategic reasons, these advantageous positions provide India a deep view inside Chinese territory. Therefore, this area is of concern for the Chinese at a tactical level,” the official said.
In the standoff, which overshadowed the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping between September 17 and 19, about 800-1,000 Chinese troops had been occupying positions inside Indian territory. The corresponding build-up from the Indian side included two battalions comprising 1,500 personnel. Defence Ministry sources had maintained that the solution “rests with diplomats and not the Army”.