THE DEADLOCK between India and China over the military standoff in eastern Ladakh continues, with the eighth round of meetings between senior military commanders from both sides failing to achieve any breakthrough. Both sides, however, “agreed to have another round of meetings soon”.
After the latest meeting on November 6, which was also attended by diplomats from India and China, both the governments issued a joint statement, which said that they will “push for the settlement of other outstanding issues, so as to jointly maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas”.
The statement said the “two sides had a candid, in-depth and constructive exchange of views on disengagement along the Line of Actual Control in the Western Sector of India-China border areas”.
It said both agreed to “earnestly implement the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries, ensure their frontline troops exercise restraint and avoid misunderstanding and miscalculation”.
“Both sides agreed to maintain dialogue and communication through military and diplomatic channels, and, taking forward the discussions at this meeting, push for the settlement of other outstanding issues, so as to jointly maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas,” it said.
The latest joint statement, with no major deviation from the two issued after two earlier rounds, does not suggest a major breakthrough in the standoff that is now in its seventh month. Before the eighth round, there were some “feelers” from China for a possible thinning of troops from some of the friction areas. However, no such understanding was reached in Friday’s meeting.
This was the first meeting in which the Indian delegation was led by Lt General P G K Menon, who took over as commander of XIV Corps in mid-October. The delegation also included Naveen Srivastava, joint secretary handling East Asia in the Ministry of External Affairs. The Chinese delegation was led by Major General Liu Lin, commander of the South Xinjian Military Region.
In the last two rounds of talks, China had insisted that India vacate the heights occupied by it in late August on the north and south banks of Pangong Tso, and the Chushul sub-sector. However, India has been pushing for a status quo ante, for troops to go back to April-end positions — not just from the frontlines but also depth areas.
Speaking at a seminar Friday, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat had stated that India will not allow any change in the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
Both sides have positioned around 50,000 troops along with artillery, tanks and air defence assets in the region, and are prepared for deployment through the brutal winter. At several heights in the Pangong Tso area and in the Chushul sub-sector, the troops from both sides are just a few hundred metres apart.
The Indian troops are in a dominating position in the Chushul sub-sector, at heights on Magar Hill, Gurgun Hill, Rezang La and Rechin La, which allows them a direct view of China’s Moldo Garrison and to dominate the strategically sensitive 2-km wide valley, Spanggur Gap.
On the north bank of Pangong Tso, Indian troops are at heights that puts them in a more advantageous position over Chinese troops positioned on the ridges connecting Finger 3, and Finger 4, which is 8 km west of India’s perception of the LAC at Finger 8.
China has been blocking Indian soldiers at the bottleneck in the Depsang Plains from accessing Patrolling Points (PP) 10, 11, 11A, 12 and 13. The area is close to the strategically important Daulat Beg Oldie post in the north near the Karakoram Pass. There are also a small number of Chinese troops near PP15 in the Hot Springs area, and PP17A near Gogra Post.