The Indian and Chinese armies stressed the need for “expeditious, phased and step-wise de-escalation” along the contested Line of Actual Control (LAC) on priority during a 12-hour meeting between senior military commanders at Chushul in Ladakh on Tuesday as part of ongoing efforts to cool heightened border tensions, people familiar with the developments said on Wednesday, on the condition of anonymity.
The discussions reflected the commitment of both sides to reduce tensions along the disputed border, said one of the persons cited above, adding that the disengagement process would be complex.
“More meetings are expected both at the military and at the diplomatic level to arrive at a mutually-agreeable solution and to ensure peace and tranquility along the LAC as per bilateral agreements and protocols,” he said.
This was the third meeting between delegations led by Lieutenant General Harinder Singh, commander of the Leh-based 14 Corps, and Major General Liu Lin, commander of the South Xinjiang military region; and the second after the brutal clash at Galwan Valley that left 20 Indian and an unconfirmed number of Chinese soldiers dead.
The Galwan Valley clash, which took place on June 15, derailed an earlier disengagement plan.
“India and China have been engaged in discussions through established military and diplomatic channels to address the situation along the LAC in India-China border areas,” said the second person cited above.
He said the focus of the June 30 meeting was to discuss issues related to disengagement at the face-off sites along the LAC and de-escalation from the border areas.
“Both sides have emphasised the need for an expeditious, phased and step wise de-escalation as a priority. This is in keeping with the agreement between external affairs minister and his Chinese counterpart during their conversation on June 17 that the overall situation would be handled in a responsible manner, and that both sides would implement the disengagement understanding of June 6 sincerely,” the second person added.
The two delegations last met on June 22 when they hammered out a consensus on disengaging from friction points along the disputed border during an 11-hour meeting. The “mutual consensus to disengage” from all “friction areas” reached eight days ago has neither enabled any disengagement on the ground nor led to the thinning of military build-up by rival forces in the region, as reported by Hindustan Times on Wednesday.
“The June 30 meeting was held in a businesslike manner keeping in view the Covid-19 protocols. The discussions reflected the commitment of both sides to reduce the tensions along the LAC. The process of disengagement along the LAC is complex and in such a context, speculative and unsubstantiated reports need to be avoided,” said the first person cited above.
The two senior officers first met on June 6 to ease growing tensions along the LAC. The limited military disengagement that began in some friction areas after the first meeting was derailed after the bloodshed in Galwan Valley.
The Indian side on Tuesday reiterated its demand for the pullback of Chinese troops from the friction points and sought the restoration of status quo ante (early April) in key areas including Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley and the strategic Depsang plains.
The latest meeting took place at Chushul on the Indian side of the LAC, while the previous two meetings were held at Moldo on the Chinese side.
China has not halted — but instead ramped up — its military activity in Finger Area near Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley and Depsang Plains after the senior officers last met on June 22.
India is especially concerned about the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) holding positions in the Finger Area where it has set up permanent bunkers, pillboxes, tented camps and observation posts in areas New Delhi considers its territory, as reported by HT on Tuesday..
The situation is equally critical from the Indian standpoint in the Depsang sector as the PLA has mobilised troops, weapons and other military equipment in sensitive areas, with its forward presence disrupting the army’s patrolling patterns there.
Both India and China have significantly reinforced their deployments with thousands of soldiers, fighter jets, helicopters, tanks, heavy artillery, missiles and air defence systems in the region.
The Chinese buildup in other areas including Galwan Valley and the Gogra Post-Hot Springs sector hasn’t thinned either. Satellite imagery dated June 22, released by US firm Maxar Technologies, shows not only is the PLA holding ground in Galwan Valley but has also shored up its military positions in the area, as reported by HT on June 25.