After a 14-hour meeting in Ladakh between Chinese and Indian military commanders on Tuesday, the government said the two sides continue to discuss ways to disengage their troops that continue to face off in several locations.
“The two sides remain committed to the objective of complete disengagement. This process is intricate and requires constant verification. They are taking it forward through regular meetings at diplomatic and military level,” said a ministry of defence (MoD) statement.
Sources close to the government admit there was no breakthrough in Tuesday’s fourth round of talks between India’s corps commander in Leh, Lieutenant General Harinder Singh and China’s commander of the South Xinjiang Military Region, Major General Liu Lin.
“The Senior Commanders reviewed the progress on implementation of the first phase of disengagement and discussed further steps to ensure complete disengagement,” stated the MoD.
Tellingly, the defence ministry was silent on New Delhi’s demand for China to ensure a reversion to the “status quo ante” of April, before troops of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) at six points in Eastern Ladakh.
Nor was there any mention of “de-escalation”, which would involve both sides pulling back large numbers of troops concentrated behind the frontlines, as backup in case large scale fighting broke out.
So far only limited disengagement has taken place in the Galwan valley, where the LAC has effectively shifted one kilometre in favour of China; in Hot Spring and Gogra where China has made a slightly larger gain; and in the Pangong Tso sector where drawing the disengagement point at Finger 4 means the Chinese have gained eight kilometres.
In Depsang, near the Karakoram Pass, PLA troops are an estimated 15-18 kilometres inside Indian territory.
So far there have been no fruitful discussions on disengaging troops in Depsang.
Meanwhile, Chinese troops remain concentrated in large numbers on their side of the LAC opposite Demchok, Fukche, Pangong Tso, Khurnak Fort, Hot Spring, Galwan and Depsang.
In a separate statement on Thursday, the ministry of external affairs (MEA) rejected charges that India had effectively accepted a change in the alignment of the LAC. “There is absolutely no change with respect to India’s position on the Line of Actual Control. We are fully committed to observing and respecting the LAC. Any unilateral attempts to change the status quo along the LAC are not acceptable,” stated the MEA.
Since early June, India and China have engaged in discussions through military as well as diplomatic channels to defuse the on-going confrontation along the LAC. Talks have taken place over the phone between India’s Foreign Minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi on June 17; as well as between the latter and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval on July 5 in their capacity as Special Representatives on the border question.
On July 10, a meeting was held of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs.
“The engagement (between military commanders on Tuesday) was consistent with the consensus reached between the Special Representatives of India and China earlier, on 05 July, to discuss complete disengagement,” stated the government.