India and China have agreed to stop sending more soldiers to the face-off points along the disputed boundary between the two nations in eastern Ladakh, but could not yet end the stalemate over the withdrawal of large numbers of troops they already deployed over the past four-and-a-half months since the stand-off started.
The two sides agreed to “stop sending more troops to the frontline, refrain from unilaterally changing the situation on the ground and avoid taking any actions that may complicate the situation”, according to a joint statement issued in New Delhi and Beijing a day after the senior commanders of the Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) restarted talks after a gap of almost seven weeks.
The joint statement, however, had no reference to the restoration of the status quo ante that existed along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) – the de facto boundary between the two nations – before the Chinese PLA started unilaterally altering it in late April and early May, leading to the stand-off with the Indian Army.
A source in New Delhi said that the talks on restarting the stalled process of mutual withdrawal of soldiers from the face-off points had remained inconclusive, with the PLA still not ready to pull back troops from Depsang Y junction, Gogra Post and the northern bank of Pangong Tso (lake). The Chinese Army instead demanded that the Indian Army should pull back troops on the southern bank of Pangong Tso.
The meeting between the senior military commanders of the two nations, however, ended with both sides agreeing to hold the next round of meeting “as soon as possible” to continue the discussion on resolving the stand-off.
Lt. Gen. Harinder Singh, General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the 14 Corps of the Indian Army, and Maj Gen Liu Lin of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had a more-than-14-hour-long meeting at Chushul-Moldo point on the LAC – the de facto boundary between the two nations in the western sector – on Monday. Lt. Gen. Singh was joined by Lt Gen P G K Menon, who would take over as the commander of the 14 Corps of the Indian Army next month.
Naveen Srivastava, Joint Secretary (East Asia) in the Ministry of External Affairs, also participated in the meeting. So did his counterparts from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Chinese Government. Though the military commanders of India and China held five rounds of meetings since the stand-off started, the sixth one was the first to have diplomats of the two sides participating in the discussion.
The two sides had “candid and in-depth exchanges of views on stabilizing the situation along the LAC”, according to the joint statement issued simultaneously in New Delhi and Beijing. “They agreed to earnestly implement the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries, strengthen communication on the ground, avoid misunderstandings and misjudgments.”
Lt. Gen. Singh and Maj. Gen. Liu earlier had five rounds of talks since the stand-off started, but they did not have any meeting after the last on August 2. The talks were stalled as the Chinese PLA declined to adhere to the process it earlier mutually agreed with the Indian Army for pulling back soldiers from the face-off scenes along the LAC.
The local commanders however continued talks, keeping the channels of communications open, even as the soldiers of the two nations remained engaged in an eyeball-to-eyeball situation on the face-off points, particularly on the north and south bank of Pangong Tso.
The two sides agreed to restart talks between the senior military commanders when External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had talks on the side-line of a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Moscow on September 10.
New Delhi has been pointing out that China flouted its key 1993 and 1996 border peace pacts with India by deploying a large number of troops along the LAC.