Border meeting over Ladakh tensions: Delhi, Beijing work the lines, commanders to hold LAC talks today

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Written by Shubhajit Roy , Sushant Singh | New Delhi | Published: June 6, 2020 4:04:34 am

Indian and Chinese troops have been engaged in a bitter standoff in several areas along the Line of Actual Control in mountainous eastern Ladakh Officials cautioned against expectations of any immediate resolution, saying the Saturday meeting could be the first of several.

Stepping up efforts ahead of the Saturday meeting of their top military commanders to resolve the tense situation along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh, Indian and Chinese ambassadors joined a video call between diplomats of their border working mechanism Friday to underline that “the two sides should handle their differences through peaceful discussion” and “not allow them to become disputes”.

XIV Corps Commander Lt General Harinder Singh will meet his Chinese counterpart at the Chushul-Moldo border meeting point at 8.30 am Saturday as part of efforts to resolve the LAC crisis that is threatening relations between the two countries.

Officials cautioned against expectations of any immediate resolution, saying the Saturday meeting could be the first of several.

Military and diplomatic talks so far had pointed to Chinese “intransigence”, but both New Delhi and Beijing sent out clear signals Friday that the two sides need to work “in accordance with the guidance provided by the leadership” — a reference to the ‘strategic guidance’ following the informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping in Wuhan in April 2018.

The video call between Naveen Srivastava, Joint Secretary (East) in Ministry of External Affairs, and Wu Jianghao, Director General in the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also had the two ambassadors taking part.

The MEA said: “The two sides reviewed the state of bilateral relations including the current developments. In this context they recalled the consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries, that peaceful, stable and balanced relations between India and China will be a positive factor for stability in the current global situation.”

“Both sides also agreed that in accordance with the guidance provided by the leadership, the two sides should handle their differences through peaceful discussion bearing in mind the importance of respecting each other’s sensitivities, concerns and aspirations and not allow them to become disputes,” it said.

In near identical remarks, Chinese ambassador Sun Weidong took to Twitter: “They agreed that the two sides should follow the strategic guidance of the two leaders, put into action that China & India pose no threat to each other & represent development opportunities for each other, & differences should not be turned into disputes.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said: “At present, the overall situation in the China-India border areas is stable and controllable. There are sound mechanisms for border-related matters between China and India. The two sides maintain close communication through diplomatic and military channels and are working to properly resolve relevant issues.”

Ahead of the meeting at the border point, an official said though the Indians “are not expecting any immediate breakthrough in one meeting”, they are “satisfied that both the sides are talking. It may take four or five meetings or even more before the deadlock is broken”.

“In these meetings, the decision-making authority is not always with the commanders who are chairing the delegations. Even during the meeting, very often both sides ask for adjournment to confer with their higher commander on a point,” the official said.

Another official said that “considering the Chinese response in the meetings so far, it is hard to expect that the deadlock will be broken on Saturday. We will convey our points firmly, but they have been intransigent on their intrusions, particularly in the Pangong Tso area.”

In Pangong Tso, the Chinese perception of the LAC – at Finger 4 – is around 8 km to the west of the LAC – at Finger 8 – which has been patrolled by the Indian side before tensions mounted early last month.

Satellite images show that Chinese troops have moved in great numbers close to their perception line – which India considers as its territory – and undertaken fresh deployment and constructions.

The Indian agenda for the meeting, an official said, centres around restoration of the status quo ante on the LAC to April-end — before China diverted its forces from an ongoing military exercise towards the Indian side. This translates into an Indian insistence on withdrawal of all Chinese troops from Indian territory – though it falls between the different ‘perceptions’ of LAC of both sides – and removal of all constructions undertaken by the Chinese in the same area.

The Indian side is also going to raise the issue of the limits of patrolling by both sides, as conducted hitherto, and seek restoration. In the Pangong Tso area, Indian troops are not being allowed by the Chinese to patrol up to Finger 8.

India is also seeking a mutually agreed progressive reduction of heavy military equipment, such as artillery guns and tanks, from the rear areas of both sides. This is seen as a confidence-building measure to reduce tensions and a first step towards creating a more conducive environment for further talks.

The Indian side also wants China to stop objecting to infrastructure development activities well within Indian territory. The opening of the 255-km long Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie road created opportunities for lateral roads, which led to objections from the Chinese.

The meeting, sources said, will begin with the Indian side making the first submission, which will include asking both sides to maintain peace and tranquility on the border, and to adhere to protocols and agreements signed by the two countries since 1993.

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