Eleven days after their Foreign Ministers reached an agreement in Moscow to “continue dialogue” and “quickly disengage” troops to “ease tensions” along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, Indian and Chinese military commanders returned to the talks table Monday to try and resolve the situation.
Until late in the night, the meeting which began in the morning — the sixth round of discussions at the Corps Commander-level since the start of the standoff early May — was still on at Moldo, the border meeting point on the Chinese side near Chushul.
The Indian team, led by XIV Corps Commander Lt General Harinder Singh, included Lt General PGK Menon from Army headquarters. He is tipped to take charge of the Leh-based Corps in October.
Also in the team was Naveen Srivastava, Joint Secretary (East Asia) in the Ministry of External Affairs. He has been dealing with his Chinese counterparts at the meetings of the Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC) to dial down tensions.
This is the first time that an official of the MEA is part of the military talks between the two sides.
The Chinese team is being led by Major General Liu Lin, Commander of the South Xinjiang Military Region.
Since mid-July, talks have not made much headway with the Chinese reluctant to complete the disengagement process, especially on the north bank of Pangong Tso where they continue to occupy the ridgeline at Finger 4. It is 8 km west of Finger 8 which India says marks the LAC.
Tensions heightened again towards the end of August when Indian troops, in pre-emptive moves to foil Chinese plans, occupied key heights on the south bank of Pangong Tso and on the stretch down to Rezang La and Rechin La.
Indian troops are currently positioned on Gurung Hill and Magar Hill, both of which overlook the Spanggur Gap, where India and China have their BPM huts.
There are an estimated 50,000 troops on each side of the LAC, backed with tanks, artillery and air defence assets.
Sources in the defence establishment said the agenda for the sixth round of talks was decided by the China Study Group, the government’s top advisory body on Sino-Indian relations, when it met on September 18.
Total disengagement from the friction points, where less than 500 metres separate troops of the two countries, will be one of the main talking points between the military commanders.
India has been insisting on status quo ante – of troops on either side returning to their April locations.
Top government officials told The Indian Express that earlier China was in a more advantageous position, and had been delaying discussions on disengagement and de-escalation. But the ground situation changed after India made its moves in the Chushul sub-sector. Indian troops, officials said, also readjusted positions on the Pangong north bank to dominate the ridgeline being held by the Chinese.
On September 10, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met in Moscow and agreed on a five-point approach to “quickly disengage” troops and “ease tensions”.
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