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India awaits next military talks with China on unfinished disengagement in Ladakh

Beijing has blamed India for the military standoff in eastern Ladakh

Indian-army-convoy-ladakh-PTI (File) Representational image

Efforts are on to finalise the agenda for the next round of military commanders meeting between India and China. But, in absence of the 'common understanding' over certain issues, the two sides have not been able fix the date for the impending 12th round of Corps Commander-level talks.

A top official in the South Block, which houses the ministry of defence, claims that China is pushing to downgrade the level of military talk to division commander level, which the Indian side is not accepting. India feels that military standoff should be negotiated at the highest level of military engagement. Division Commander-level talks involve teams headed by officers of the rank of Major General.

In the June 25 meeting of Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on India-China border affairs, both sides had agreed to hold the senior commander's meeting as soon as possible to discuss 'complete disengagement' on Ladakh sector of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

But China, instead of discussing all friction points, only wants disengagement of troops and weapons from the general areas of Gogra and Hot Sprints. "They (China) are not willing to discuss Demchok and Depsang flashpoints. But we are insisting to restore the status quo of April 2020," said an official. While both sides of Pangong Tso was demilitarised after military talks in February, the other friction areas like Hot Springs, Gogra, the Depsang plains, CNN (Charding Ninglung Nallah) track junction at Demchok and Patrolling Point 15 are yet to be resolved.

"Out of the four principal issues, Depsang could prove to be most contentious, which China is not willing to discuss at the senior military level talk. Chinese side is pushing to discuss such issues at local commander level instead of the highest level. It shows their unwillingness to resolve the border dispute," another official said. Since 2013, China has blocked Indian patrols to Patrolling Point 10, 11, 11A, 12 and 13 Depsang plains.

Since April 2020, India and China have deployed over 50,000 troops (three division level) along with artillery, tanks and rockets, along the 1,597 kilometre-long border in eastern Ladakh.

Beijing has blamed India for the military standoff in eastern Ladakh. Its foreign ministry spokesperson made a statement that “for quite some time, the Indian side has been increasing its military along the border and encroaching upon the Chinese territory. This is the root cause of the tense situation along the borders”.

In a message to China (for its provocative behaviour at Ladakh), on July 6, in a departure from the past, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama on his 86th birthday. Keeping the sensitivities of the Chinese government, New Delhi has been careful and calibrated in its engagement with the Dalai Lama. This is the first time since 2015, Modi has publicly acknowledged his telephonic conversation with the Tibetan spiritual leader. In September 2015, Modi had thanked the Dalai Lama for his birthday greetings.

China does not accept the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile in India and disapproves any engagement with him.

Till date, 11 rounds of military talks at the Corps Commander level to find a resolution have taken place between the two sides. Expect partial disengagement on both sides of Pangong Tso, talks have not yielded much outcome. Military negotiations have, however, managed to control the temper of both forces and have been able to prevent a repeat of Galwan-type clash.

According to Indian military planners, they have realised that Chinese PLA can only be deterred by 'offensive' posturing. It was evident from Indian Army's Operation Snow Leopard, launched in last August to capture the dominating heights of Rezang La and Rechin La (south of Pangong Tso) in the Kailash ranges. In February, Indian forces eventually vacated these heights after the 9th Corps commander level meeting.  However, some military experts believe that giving away the dominant heights on Kailash range was a mistake as it was Chinese military's prime objective. Since then, Chinese military have not been keen to resolve other friction points.

Besides the Army, the Indian Air Force deployed its frontline fighters, including the newly inducted Rafale jets from France, on the Ladakh sector. Indian military believes swift deployment of air force strike assets have somehow deterred aggressive Chinese military. Newly inducted Chinook and Apache helicopters along with omni-role Rafale jets changed the dynamics on the icy heights of Himalayan frontiers, as these air assets were, for first time, deployed in extreme high-altitude areas.

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