A year-and-a-half into the military standoff on the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh, India and China have hardened their positions after making no headway in the 13th round of Corps Commander-level talks to try and resolve the situation at Hot Springs.
On Monday, a day after the talks at the Moldo border personnel meeting point near Chushul, India and China, in their sharpest exchange since the Galwan Valley clashes in June 2020 and diplomatic efforts thereafter to reach a negotiated solution, blamed each other for the failure to make progress over Hot Springs.
Troops have disengaged on the north and south banks of Pangong Tso and Gogra Post, but not at Hot Springs where they continue to face each other ever since the Chinese crossed the LAC in May 2020. The Chinese have also been preventing Indian troops from accessing traditional patrolling points on the Depsang Plains, not far from the strategic Indian outpost at Daulat Beg Oldie near the Karakoram Pass in the north.
India said its delegation made “constructive suggestions” on resolving the situation in the “remaining areas” but the Chinese side “was not agreeable” and also “could not provide any forward-looking proposals”. Earlier, China accused India of raising what it called “unreasonable and unrealistic demands” which, it said, “added difficulties to the negotiations”.
This sharp exchange of words was a departure from the past since the two sides had been issuing joint statements, displaying common understanding of the meeting outcomes.
The Indian Army, in a statement, said the discussions between the two sides “focussed on resolution of the remaining issues” along the LAC in eastern Ladakh and India “emphasised such resolution of the remaining areas would facilitate progress in bilateral relations. During the meeting, the Indian side therefore made constructive suggestions for resolving the remaining areas but the Chinese side was not agreeable and also could not provide any forward-looking proposals.”
The Army said this would have also been in keeping “with the guidance provided by the two Foreign Ministers in their recent meeting in Dushanbe where they had agreed that the two sides should resolve the remaining issues at the earliest”.
“The meeting thus did not result in resolution of the remaining areas,” the Army said. Both sides, however, “agreed to maintain communications and also to maintain stability on the ground”. “It is our expectation that the Chinese side will take into account the overall perspective of bilateral relations and will work towards early resolution of the remaining issues while fully abiding by bilateral agreements and protocols.”
The Indian team at the talks was led by Lt General PGK Menon, commander of the Leh-based XIV Corps which is responsible for the LAC in Ladakh. Major General Liu Lin, commander of the South Xinjiang Military District, headed the Chinese delegation.
Blaming India for the deadlock, Senior Colonel Long Shaohua, spokesperson for the Western Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army, in a statement, said “instead of misjudging the situation, the Indian side should cherish the hard-won situation in China-India border areas.”
China’s Defence Ministry said that during the meeting “the Chinese side made great efforts to promote the easing and cooling of the border situation and fully demonstrated China’s sincerity of maintaining overall interests of bilateral military relations,” but “the Indian side still persisted in its unreasonable and unrealistic demands, which added difficulties to the negotiations”.
Long said “China is firm in its resolve to safeguard national sovereignty”.
Indian defence establishment officials said though China did not agree to disengage from Hot Springs, it did not mean that the talks had failed. A senior officer said the talks will continue, both at the military and the diplomatic levels. Another official pointed out that there have been changes recently in the top echelons of the PLA, including the commander of the Western Theatre responsible for the border with India, and this has had a bearing on the talks.
On the eve of the meeting, Army chief General MM Naravane, speaking at the India Today Conclave, said the Chinese have been building infrastructure on their side of the region and this means “they are there to stay”. He had made a similar remark while on a tour of eastern Ladakh.
Earlier this month, there was a near clash in Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh after Indian soldiers confronted over 150 Chinese troops. They jostled each other before local commanders stepped in to control the situation. Late August, nearly 100 Chinese soldiers had intruded into Indian territory in Barahoti in Uttarakhand.