NEW DELHI: Talks between senior military commanders of India and China on the second and more complex phase of de-escalation and disengagement which started on Tuesday lasted 15 hours, concluding in the early hours of Wednesday, two people familiar with the matter said.
A statement about the talks is unlikely from the Indian side on Wednesday, as it engages "internal deliberations" over the discussions, one of the two people cited above said.
This has led to some speculation that the talks had either hit a roadblock or the Chinese side had made a proposal that required consultations among the top military officers in New Delhi, perhaps also with political leaders. There was also speculation that the de-escalation at Depsang and Pangong Tso could take several more rounds of talks given the complexities involved.
The discussions – between Lt Gen. Harinder Singh, commander of the Leh-based 14th Corps, and Maj. Gen. Liu Lin of the Chinese Liberation Army (PLA) who is in charge of the South Xinjiang Military District – were the fourth since 6 June. They took place in Chushul on the Indian side of the border in Ladakh. The two men have previously met on 6 June, 22 June and 30 June.
According to one of the people cited above, Singh and Liu concluded their talks at around 0230 am on Wednesday, possibly indicative of a tough session of negotiations.
On the table, from the Indian side, was the restoration of status quo ante – or a complete withdrawal of Chinese troops to positions they occupied in April. The Chinese have made inroads into what is seen as Indian territory in the Pangong Tso area and in Depsang plains in eastern Ladakh.
At Pangong Tso, the Chinese continue to occupy the heights at Finger 4 despite having moved away towards Finger 5. The “Fingers" refer to mountain folds jutting into the lake.
India holds till Finger 4 and used to patrol to Finger 8 with the Line of Actual Control on Indian maps marked as crossing the lake at Finger 8. The Chinese side holds territory till Finger 8 while it claims up to Finger 4.
China had previously demanded that India vacate positions till Finger 2 ie moving back from the current position it holds – a demand not acceptable to India. As it stands, India holds one third of the lake and the Chinese side holds the remaining two-thirds.
In the Depsang plains, the Chinese are seen as having come 18-20 kilometres Indian territory. The Depsang plains are seen as a crucial area for India given that it lies close to the strategic Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie road. The DSDBO road, as it is called, runs through heights ranging between 13,000 feet and 16,000 feet and connects Leh to India’s highest landing strip – Daulet Beg Oldie -- at the base of the Karakoram Pass, that separates China’s Xinjiang province from Ladakh.
Last week, Indian and Chinese troops pulled back from three friction points—PP (patrolling point) 14,15 and 17A, creating a buffer zone of 3-4 km depth. This was done to ensure that troops who are separated at some points along the LAC by only 600 metres or less do not engage with each other. This was seen as relatively easy with analysts describing withdrawal of Chinese troops from the banks of Pangong Tso and the Depsang plains, situated west of PP 14, 15 and 17A, as the real challenge.
Meanwhile, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is scheduled to visit Leh on Friday and Srinagar on Saturday, the defence ministry said. This will be Singh’s first visit to Ladakh after tensions between India and China surfaced in May.