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A thaw in ties

In view of Chinese aggressive deployment in Tibet and eastern Ladakh, India has changed its posture towards China. Unlike its previous defensive approach that placed a premium on fending off Chinese aggression, India is now catering to military options to strike back and has reoriented its military accordingly.

PK Vasudeva | New Delhi |

The 12th round of military talks between India and China wrapped up on a positive note amid growing hopes of reaching an understanding on the disengagement of troops from Hot Springs and Gogra on the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Modalities will be worked out on how to take the process forward.

The meeting between corps commander-ranked officers of the Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) took place at the Moldo border point on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh on 30 July.

The Indian delegation was led by Lehbased XIV Corps Commndaer Lt Gen PGK Menon and Additional Secretary (East Asia) in the Ministry of External Affairs, Naveen Srivastava. Commander of the PLA’s Western Theatre Command Xu Qiling, who was appointed earlier this month, led the Chinese military delegation. At nine hours, this was possibly the shortest round of talks between the two sides.

Officials had stated earlier that another round of Major General level talks is scheduled to be held very soon after the 12th rounds of talks. The build-up in Depsang was not being considered part of the current standoff that started in May last year as the escalation took place in 2013. India has insisted during military commander meetings to resolve all issues across the LAC. The initial attempt will be to resolve Gogra and Hot Springs.

Finding a solution to Depsang might be tricky and take longer. In an incremental step forward in the overall stalled troop disengagement in eastern Ladakh, India and China now plan to establish a no-patrolling or buffer zone between the rival soldiers at one of the ‘friction’ points in the Gogra Hot SpringsKongka La sector. The phased disengagement with physical verification at Patrolling Point-17A is likely to kick off over the next few days, once “in principle agreement” reached during 12th round of talks is “ratified” by the two governments.

The other friction point in the sector, PP-15 as well as the much more intractable issues of the blocking of Indian troop patrols in the Depsang Bulge and the tents pitched inside Indian territory in the Damchok sector need to be further discussed with China. It is reported that both sides discussed “specific details to cool tempers in the remaining friction points including moving ahead with the disengagement process and agreed to jointly maintain stability on the ground”.

A hotline was established between the Indian Army in Kongra La, North Sikkim and PLA at Khamba Dzong in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) to further the spirit of trust and cordial relations along the borders. These hotlines in various sectors go a long way in enhancing ties and maintaining peace and tranquility at the borders, the army said. Ground commanders of the respective armies attended the inauguration of PLA Day on August 1 and a message of friendship and harmony was exchanged through the hotline.

Ahead of the talks, sources said India was hopeful of a positive outcome on the disengagement process. India has been insisting that the resolution of the outstanding issues, including at Depsang, Hot Springs and Gogra, is essential for the overall ties between the two countries. The 12th round of military talks took place over two weeks after External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar firmly conveyed to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi that the prolongation of the existing situation in eastern Ladakh was visibly impacting bilateral ties in a “negative manner”.

The two foreign ministers had held a one-hour bilateral meeting on the sidelines of a conclave of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Tajik capital city Dushanbe on 14 July. In the meeting, Jaishankar had told Wang that any unilateral change in the status quo along the LAC was “not acceptable” to India and that the overall ties could only develop after full restoration of peace and tranquillity in eastern Ladakh.

The border stand-off between the Indian and Chinese militaries erupted in May last year following a violent clash in the Pangong lake areas and both sides gradually enhanced their deployment by rushing in tens of thousands of soldiers as well as heavy weaponry. As a result of a series of military and diplomatic talks, the two sides completed the withdrawal of troops and weapons from the North and South banks of Pangong Lake in February in line with an agreement on disengagement.

Each side currently has around 50,000 to 60,000 troops along the LAC in the sensitive sector. In a joint statement both sides said this round of meetings was constructive, which further enhanced mutual understanding. The statement added that the two countries have agreed to expeditiously resolve the remaining issues in accordance with existing agreements and protocols and to maintain the pace of talks.

They have also agreed that both countries will continue effective efforts for stability along the LAC. Along with this, they will jointly maintain peace and tranquillity in the region. “They agreed to resolve the remaining issues in an expeditious manner in accordance with the existing agreements and protocols and maintain the momentum of dialogue and negotiations,” the statement said.

The two sides also agreed that in the interim they would continue their effective efforts in ensuring stability along the LAC in the Western Sector and jointly maintain peace and tranquillity, it said. In view of Chinese aggressive deployment in Tibet and eastern Ladakh, India has changed its posture towards China. Unlike its previous defensive approach that placed a premium on fending off Chinese aggression, India is now catering to military options to strike back and has reoriented its military accordingly.

India has reoriented around 50,000 troops whose main focus will be the disputed border with China. The reorientation comes when China is refurbishing its existing airfields in the Tibetan Plateau that will allow twin-engine fighter aircraft to be stationed, sources said. In addition, China has also brought troops from the Tibet Military region to the Xinjiang region that passes through the Karakoram Range down south Uttarakhand.

(The writer is a retired Senior Professor of International Trade and a member of the Vivekananda International Foundation, New Delhi)