NEW DELHI: There was no concrete breakthrough yet again in defusing the over two-year-long troop confrontation in eastern Ladakh with China, despite the top-level military talks being held after a gap of four months and external affairs minister S Jaishankar meeting his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi a couple of times in the interim.
China did not agree to the Indian proposal to even complete the stalled troop disengagement at Patrolling Point-15 (PP-15) near the Kugrang Nallah in the Chang Chenmo sector during the 16th round of corps commander-level talks that lasted for over 12 hours on Sunday. “The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) submitted its own counter-proposal for PP-15, which will now have to be examined in detail,” a source said.
Consequently, the resolution of the much more intractable stand-offs at the Charding Ninglung Nallah (CNN) track junction at Demchok and the strategically-located Depsang Bulge area towards restoring the overall status quo as it existed in May 2020 is still nowhere on the horizon.
The two sides, however, issued a joint statement on Monday to reaffirm that they will“maintain the security and stability on the ground in the western sector” and carry forward the dialogue through military and diplomatic channels to “work out a mutually acceptable resolution of the remaining issues at the earliest”.
The military talks, led by the Leh-based 14 Corps commander Lt-General Anindya Sengupta and South Xinjiang Military District chief Major General Yang Lin, saw “a frank and in-depth exchange of views, in keeping with the guidance provided by the state leaders to work for the resolution of the remaining issues at the earliest”.
“The two sides reaffirmed that the resolution of remaining issues would help in restoration of peace and tranquillity along the LAC in the western sector and enable progress in bilateral relations,” the joint statement said.
But the usual platitudes apart, China continues to be recalcitrant about India’s demand for the sequential process of troop disengagement, de-escalation and de-induction in eastern Ladakh. Both sides continue to forward deploy over 50,000 soldiers each, backed by heavy weaponry, in the high-altitude region.
While the military commanders can continue to talk in order to maintain peace on the ground, in the backdrop of the violent skirmishes in the Galwan Valley in June 2020 that saw casualties on both sides for the first time in 45 years, the overall de-escalation will require top-level political-diplomatic intervention.
India has repeatedly made it clear to China that resolution of the eastern Ladakh confrontation is critical for improvement in the bilateral relations, but Beijing continues to insist on separating the border row from the overall ties.
Army chief General Manoj Pande in May, incidentally, had stated that China has not shown any intent to move towards a final settlement of the overall boundary question. “What we see is that China’s intent or attempt has been to keep the boundary issue alive. What we need as a country is a `whole of nation’ approach to address this issue in its entirety,” he had said.