NEW DELHI: India and China are to hold talks this week – at the military and diplomatic levels -- to break an impasse on the reducing tensions simmering since early May by disengaging troops mobilized along their Line of Actual Control (LAC) border.
Two people familiar with the matter separately said on Monday that the talks would be held at the level of senior military commanders and diplomats.
On Tuesday Lt General Harinder Singh of the Leh-based 14 Corps is to sit down for talks with Major General Liu Lin, commander of the South Xinjiang Military District in Chushul on the Indian side of the LAC. The last two meetings between the two – on 6 June and 22 June – were on the Chinese side of the LAC – at Moldo. In the 22 June meeting, the two commanders had reached “mutual consensus to disengage" but so far there is no news of a pullout of troops.
Later in the week, the “Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC)" which is led by a joint secretary level officer in the Indian foreign ministry and his Chinese counterpart, is expected to meet. The two sides had met on Wednesday via video link. Though they said they would keep channels of communication open, there was no progress seen on bridging differences.
The aim of both rounds of talks is expected to be to ensure that tensions on the ground are contained by adhering to an understanding arrived at on 6 June between Singh and Liu. The two had then agreed that both sides would de-escalate and disengage troops, moving them back by 2-5km in Galwan Valley and Hotsprings areas in Ladakh -- seen as easier targets to achieve. But there has been no progress on the ground.
“I am not very optimistic that these talks will yield a breakthrough," said Harsh Pant, a professor of international relations at the London-based King’s College. “Clearly with the kind of military positioning and reinforcements that the two sides have along the border, it looks like they are digging in for the long haul. The good thing is that they are talking."
Ties have been under strain since early May with India saying that China had blocked its patrols along the LAC and amassed troops along the border which forced New Delhi to do the same. China on its part has said India blamed India for intruding into Chinese territory and also holds it responsible for triggering a major clash on 15 June resulting in the deaths of 19 Indian soldiers and one army colonel.
According to satellite pictures – that have not been verified by the Indian army or the Ministry of Defence – China has made major inroads into what is seen as Indian territory on the shores of the Pangong Tso lake and in the Galwan Valley. Chinese intrusions have also been reported from Depsang plains which lie towards the north of Galwan Valley.
“For India, it will not be possible to take anything that the Chinese say at face value, there will be a need to verify the situation on the ground," Pant said. The positions of the two countries were so divergent that a breakthrough seemed unlikely, he said adding:“This situation is expected to continue for a while."