India and China will continue military and diplomatic contacts to resolve a weeks-old stand-off along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the external affairs ministry said on Sunday amid indications that the two sides were hunkering down for the long haul on the issue.
An hours-long meeting on Saturday between a delegation led by Lt Gen Harinder Singh, commander of Leh-based 14 Corps, and a Chinese delegation headed by Maj Gen Liu Lin, commander of the South Xinjiang military region, at Moldo on the Chinese side of the LAC ended without a breakthrough.
A statement issued by the external affairs ministry on Sunday morning said that “the two sides will continue the military and diplomatic engagements to resolve the situation and to ensure peace and tranquillity in the border areas”.
Saturday’s meeting between the Indian and Chinese commanders – the first meeting of top military officials since the stand-off began in early May – “took place in a cordial and positive atmosphere”, the statement said. It added that both sides agreed to work towards peacefully resolving the situation.
“Both sides agreed to peacefully resolve the situation in the border areas in accordance with various bilateral agreements and keeping in view the agreement between the leaders that peace and tranquillity in the India-China border regions is essential for the overall development of bilateral relations,” the statement said.
“Both sides also noted that this year marked the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries and agreed that an early resolution would contribute to the further development of the relationship,” it added.
The statement noted that, in recent weeks, India and China have “maintained communications through established diplomatic and military channels to address the situation” along the LAC.
People familiar with developments and who spoke on condition of anonymity said both sides appeared to be preparing for the long haul, including protracted discussions to defuse tensions, end the stand-off and ensure a return to the status quo that existed in April.
Saturday’s meeting, slated to begin early in the morning, was delayed by several hours. It began at about 11.30am and continued for almost seven hours, with a break for lunch. The people cited above said that the talks ended inconclusively.
“The two sides discussed the need to adhere to existing border protocols to maintain peace and tranquillity on the frontier. They also talked about the need to avoid any aggressive activities that could lead to a flare-up,” said one of the people cited above.
A second person, who too didn’t want to be named, said: “This has the makings of being a long-drawn affair. That’s why the official statement talks about the need for more military and diplomatic contacts.”
The people said India is sticking to its position that the status quo existing in April, before intrusions by Chinese troops in the Ladakh sector of LAC, would have to be restored, and that all bunkers and positions constructed by the Chinese side would have to be removed.
They also acknowledged that the discussions could take several months before any sort of resolution is reached.
A day ahead of the crucial talks between the army commanders, India and China agreed on Friday on not allowing their differences to escalate into disputes while respecting each other’s concerns.
Joint secretary (East Asia) Naveen Srivastava of the external affairs ministry held talks with Wu Jianghao, director general in China’s foreign ministry, through video conference on Friday and reviewed bilateral relations, including “current developments”. This was the first formal diplomatic meeting between the two sides since tensions flared along the LAC.
The army commanders met almost a month after tensions between India and China rose along the disputed border and took bilateral ties to a new low.
India has dismissed China’s contention that its troops were hindering the activities of Chinese troops along the LAC, and accused Chinese forces of hampering patrols on the Indian side. The Indian government has made it clear it won’t allow any change in the status quo along the LAC, and that it will tackle the prevailing situation with “strength and restraint”.
Lt Gen (retired) Vinod Bhatia, a former director general of military operations, said it would be difficult to set a time frame for resolving the dispute.
“We have to be patient. It is important that the situation along the LAC remains stable and status quo ante (as of early April) is restored. And as long as military and diplomatic level talks are on, there is a high possibility the dispute could be resolved,” he said.
Jayadeva Ranade, president of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy, said India would have to be ready for prolonged negotiations to resolve the situation. “Clearly, the military and diplomats [on the Indian side] are coordinating on what they do,” he said.
“However, the Chinese have already come with manpower, firepower and reinforcements and they’re not going back. They’re also blowing hot and blowing cold, and seem to have adopted a maximalist position,” he said.
“Besides, President Xi Jinping, who would have cleared any action of this sort, has faced domestic criticism for the disengagement after the Doklam stand-off in 2017. We have to be ready for protracted discussions,” he added.