New Delhi: China is insisting that India vacates strategic heights on the south bank of Pangong Lake ahead of talks on disengagement on the LAC, top Indian Army sources said.
During the Corps Commander-level talks, China told India that will not discuss disengagement in eastern Ladakh, where the build-up by both sides has triggered a war- like situation over the last four months, till the time India vacates the strategic positions.
Chinese People’s Liberation Army troops are adamant on resolving the situation first on the south bank where the Indian troops are in position of strength tactically, but India wants a roadmap for de-escalation all along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh to be drawn out.
India stated, during the talks, that all friction areas, including Depsang, should be discussed for disengagement all along the LAC.
“Why should discussions be restricted to one or two places when there is a massive build-up all across the LAC,” a top Indian Army officer said.
India has occupied critical mountain heights on the south bank of the Pangong Lake, including Rechin La, Rezang La, and Mukpari that were unmanned till now.
This step, along with some others peaks it holds, allows India to dominate the Spangur Gap under Chinese control and also the Moldo garrison on the Chinese side.
This has irked the PLA which has made multiple attempts to dislodge Indian troops, leading to instances of warning gunshots being fired.
India had changed the rules of engagement after the Galwan Valley clash of June 15 where 20 Indian soldiers and unknown number of Chinese soldiers were killed.
Chinese had attacked Indian troops with medieval barbaric weapons like iron-studded clubs.
After that, the Indian Army had empowered its commanders on the ground to take a decision whether to use firearms if their troops face a life-threatening situation and this has been communicated to China as well, sources said.
The Indian Army has also put barbed wire obstacles near the heights under its control at the LAC, signalling to the Chinese not to enter its territory.
Three days ago, the Indian and Chinese sides, in a joint statement, after the 14-hour-long diplomatic-military talks in Moldo said that both have agreed to implement the consensus reached by their leaders over the border issue.
On September 21, senior Indian and Chinese commanders held the 6th round of Military Commander-Level Meeting.
“The two sides had candid and in-depth exchanges of views on stabilising the situation along the LAC in the India-China border areas,” Indian Army had stated.
“They agreed to earnestly implement the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries, strengthen communication on the ground, avoid misunderstandings and misjudgements, stop sending more troops to the front line, refrain from unilaterally changing the situation on the ground, and avoid taking any actions that may complicate the situation.”
The two sides also agreed to hold the 7th round of the Military Commander-Level Meeting as soon as possible, take practical measures to properly solve problems on the ground, and jointly safeguard peace and tranquility in the border area.
It was for the first time that the Indian delegation had two Lt Generals, two Major Generals and a Joint Secretary from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
Headed by Lt Gen Harinder Singh, Commander of the Leh-based 14 Corps, the Indian delegation also had Lt Gen P.G.K. Menon from the Army headquarters in Delhi.
Menon will eventually take over Commander of the 14 Corps in November.
Joint Secretary, East Asia, Navin Srivastava was there to ensure that deliberation with China takes place on an agreed five-point roadmap, including quick disengagement of troops, between both the countries.
The countries reached he five-point roadmap during the talks between External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Moscow on September 10.
India and China are engaged in a four-month-long standoff at the LAC in Eastern Ladakh. Despite several levels of dialogue, there has not been any breakthrough and the deadlock continues.
Trump Offers Help To Defuse Border Tension
US President Donald Trump hoped on Thursday that India and China would be able to resolve their current border disputes as he reiterated his offer to help the two Asian giants.
“I know that China now, and India, are having difficulty, and very very substantial difficulty. And hopefully, they will be able to work that out,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
“If we can help, we would love to help,” he said.
The president’s remarks in this regard come days after senior Indian and Chinese military commanders held talks aimed at resolving the months-long standoff along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh. The two countries agreed to stop sending more troops to their disputed border in the Himalayas.
Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported that the border conflict is pushing India to look for an asymmetric response: flexing its naval might.
“India is intensifying joint naval maneuvers with the US and its allies while building new ships and setting up a network of coastal surveillance outposts that would allow New Delhi to keep an eye on the Indian Ocean’s maritime traffic,” the newspaper said.
A “Grand Tamasha” podcast with senior fellow and director of the South Asia Program of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, eminent American expert on India and South Asia Ashley Tellis said the Trump administration has taken a very transparent position of support for India in this crisis.
“And, of course, it is motivated in part by the opportunities to confront China on a grander scale, which sort of makes it part and parcel of the US’s own bilateral problems with China. But I think there is something more going on here. And the more is that I do not think the United States had the alternative of doing otherwise.
“That is, Chinese aggression in this instance has been so blatant that the United States could not stand by and either ignore it or not come to India’s defence,” said Tellis, the Tata Chair for Strategic Affairs.
“What are the issues here? We all agree that those borderlands along the Himalayan territories are undefined. We all agree that they should be negotiated, delimited, demarcated through a peaceful process. We all agree that the agreements that China and India have repeatedly reached among themselves since the 1990s actually offer a good enough framework for how to resolve this dispute over the long term,” he added.
What China has done is that it has thrown all those understandings overboard, Tellis said.
“And it is very important to recognise this that whatever the provocations may have been, the provocations created by Article 370 or whatever, I do not think they justified a reaction of this kind. Because a diplomatic provocation should have, you know, elicited a diplomatic response, rather than a quick jump to military action, which has enormous risks.
“By China taking the step to move quickly to military action, which has now resulted in loss of lives, I think it has put itself on the opposite side of the United States, which is arguing more loudly than ever for a rules-based community,” he added.
“And so, even beyond the Trump administration’s own bilateral problems with China, I think they were left in absolutely no position but to support India on this count and I think even a Democratic administration would have done the same in these circumstances,” Tellis said.
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