The India-China stand-off in the Depsang plains of Ladakh is set to blow up into a major diplomatic row after the third flag meeting between the two armies,on which a lot of hopes were pinned,failed to achieve any breakthrough Tuesday.
On the contrary,the Chinese side was even more assertive and this,sources said,has brought the upcoming visit of new Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to India in late-May under a cloud,threatening to derail the positive start made in Durban during Prime Minister Manmohan Singhs first meeting with new Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Singh had described the incursion as localised,but efforts to keep it contained received a major setback Tuesday.
The flag meeting,which took place some 20 km from Chushul in Ladakh on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control,was set up after lengthy deliberations at the diplomatic level through the joint mechanism on boundary issues led by the MEAs joint secretary (East Asia).
At the meeting,sources said,it was expected that both sides would agree to move back an agreed distance from their respective face-off positions. The Indian side was to initiate the proposal and it was hoped that an agreement would be reached,setting the stage for further discussions during External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshids visit to China on May 9.
But the talks did not follow the script. It is reliably learnt that the Chinese side was not only cold to the proposal but went on to re-emphasise its earlier demands as a pre-condition to even considering a withdrawal.
These demands include removal of a second tent put up by Indian forces at the face-off site that,incidentally,came up after the Chinese troops put up their second tent to service their forward position.
The Chinese side was also clear that even if all conditions were met,it could consider simultaneous disengagement but was not in a position to assure removal of the tents from their current positions.
The next condition was to stop construction activities at Daulat Beg Oldie and at Chumar where a helipad is being built. Also,the Chinese side wanted some tin sheds at Fukche to be dismantled,all of which are aimed at strengthening Indian defences on the LAC.
The mood at the talks was clearly one of upping the ante with the Chinese side leaving little scope for any further negotiations at the local level,the sources said.
Much of these demands reflect the problems that the new border management agreement,proposed by China,seeks to address. While the Indian side is not against negotiating a new agreement,the Army has problems with certain sections calling for freezing troop levels on the LAC among other operational aspects.
New Delhi feels that the incursion is a way to force Indias hand on the agreement. India is,however,clear that it will not accept the suggestion of freezing troop levels at a time when it is planning a major expansion effort.