India will focus on the complete disengagement of Chinese troops from the banks of the Pangong Tso lake and other friction points in Ladakh during a fresh round of military talks on Sunday to scale down tensions along their Line of Actual Control (LAC) border, a person familiar with the matter said.
Senior commanders of the Indian and Chinese armies met at Moldo, on the Chinese side of the LAC, the person said. The Indian delegation is led by Lt Gen Harinder Singh, the Commander of the Leh-based 14 Corps, while the Chinese side is headed by Major General Liu Lin, Commander of the People’s Liberation Army’s South Xinjiang military region.
A second person familiar with the matter said the focus of Singh-Liu meet would be on finalising a framework for a "time-bound and verifiable" disengagement process from all the friction points like Pangong Tso and the Depsang plains. The two commanders would also talk about pulling back large numbers of troops and weapons from rear bases along the LAC, the person said.
This will be the fifth round of talks between the countries at the military level to defuse tensions following the massive troop buildup and multiple intrusions into Indian territory by the Chinese side along the LAC in early May besides a violent clash on 15 June in the Galwan Valley that resulted in the first casualties along the border in 45 years. While the Indian army said that 20 Indian army troops including their commanding officer were killed, China has not yet made known the numbers of those dead in the clash on its side.
Sunday’s talks also come against the backdrop of news reports that China had moved a separate battalion of troops to an area adjacent to Lipulekh which falls between India, Nepal and China. Lipulekh recently was shown as part of Nepal in a new map of the Himalayan country, raising tensions between India and Nepal.
Previous rounds of senior military level talks between India and China took place on 6 June, 22 June, 30 June and 14 July.
The Indian foreign ministry last week had said that disengagement of troops in eastern Ladakh was not yet complete though some progress had been made, calling out claims by China that frontline forces of the two countries had "completed" disengagement at most locations along the border.
Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of Chinese Studies at the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University, said that with the statements from China that they have not crossed that LAC and their present positions on the ground, “the Chinese are presenting us with a fait accompli. This is not acceptable to us. We have said that they have to move back to positions they held in April."
“In the current circumstances, the Chinese are looking for a solution without pulling out," he said.
Chinese troops are still present in the Depsang Plains region, Gogra or Patrolling Point 17A and the Fingers region along the Pangong Lake. Last month, India and China had started a mutual disengagement by creating a buffer zone between both sides.
“India agreed to the buffer zones only to ensure that (Indian and Chinese) tensions don’t get out of hand again," Kondapalli said adding that India would insist again that Chinese troops return to pre-May positions in Sunday’s talks.
“What we need to look at is the situation in the South China Sea, tensions with Taiwan and Japan," Kondapalli said referring to US aircraft carriers in the region where Beijing was involved in disputes with others. “The Chinese seem to be coming under pressure here, hence you hear the Ambassador (Sun Weidong) say that China is not a strategic threat to India which is a kind of psych ops," he said.
The current tensions are seen as the consequence of India and China not being able to agree on the demarcation of their 3,488-km long border that runs from Ladakh in the west to Arunachal Pradesh in the east despite many rounds of talks over the years.