India claims not to have offered any concessions to China on a platter to resolve the standoff in eastern Ladakh.
“Our position was that the status quo of April 15 had to be restored, unconditionally,” insist Indian officials. But New Delhi is learnt to have assured Beijing that it will consider the northern neighbour’s concerns about Indian activities and infrastructure buildup along parts of the disputed border.
The details of the negotiations were largely left to the local commanders conducting the flag meetings between the two armies.
Government sources said India had not struck any deal with China to restore status quo ante in the Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) sector as existed before the April 15 incursion.
New Delhi, however, would negotiate a new border framework with Beijing as a step towards resolving the niggling border dispute that has plagued bilateral ties.
The two countries could look at instituting such a framework during external affairs minister Salman Khurshid’s two-day visit to China, beginning May 9, the sources said.
The 2005 border protocol has been found to be wanting as it bans construction of permanent structures in disputed areas, leading to disagreements on both sides that have the potential to become conflicts.
India is understood to have agreed to address China’s concerns in southeast Ladakh’s Chumar area where some construction activities have caused unease for the Chinese.
The army has set up forward observations posts, bunkers and deployed surveillance equipment in this area. It is unclear as to what length India would go to in order to accommodate Chinese concerns in this sensitive sector.
It is understood complete disengagement by both sides from Raki Nala in the windswept Depsang flats could have been achieved after the third brigadier-level flag meet in Chushul sector on April 30, but the Chinese side wanted a commitment from “sufficiently high level” that their concerns would be addressed.
The Chinese pressed India hard, pushing diplomatic activities into top gear. Both foreign offices worked overtime on Saturday and Sunday to map out the finer contours of a simultaneous disengagement to end the three-week faceoff, with foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai and Indian ambassador in Beijing S Jaishankar spearheading the efforts.
The envoy in China went to the Chinese foreign office twice on Sunday, while Mathai was in constant touch with the resident mission in New Delhi as well as the foreign office there.
The Chinese finally agreed to the Indian position, but wanted an assurance from a “sufficiently higher level the in government”.
While sources refused to disclose the exact nature of the assurances given to China, they said the commitment could have been made at the level of the foreign secretary or the national security adviser.
New Delhi used the 2002 Barihota border stand-off as a template for determining their course of action.
Stepped up diplomatic engagement led to the fourth and fifth flag meetings on May 4 and 5 in the Chushul sector, after which both sides agreed to simultaneously pull out of the faceoff site.
China had repeatedly asked the Indian Army to stop infrastructure build-up and construction of bunkers in the Fukche and Chumar regions of Ladakh, as a precondition for withdrawing its troops.
They have also articulated concerns about infrastructure build-up, including reactivations of advance landing grounds, in the DBO sector in the north and Nyoma in the east during the last four to five years.
The Chinese have demanded that some forward observation posts, bunkers and shelters in the Chumar and Fukche areas be removed.
Its contention is that some of the build-ups along the line of actual control (LAC) are in violation of protocols governing borders that have not been mutually delineated.
But as a result of diplomatic activity, China reportedly agreed to delink the demands for removing such infrastructure from simultaneous disengagement.
Sources said some of these issues could be discussed in future flag meetings and the diplomatic machinery could kick in to find a peaceful resolution.
Indian officials say they can only speculate as to why Beijing decided to trigger this crisis just weeks before the visit of their premier Li Kejiang.
"Our sense is that they miscalculated our response," said one. Beijing may have assumed New Delhi would buckle rather than sacrifice that visit and that of Khurshid.
Also, in previous border stand-offs, such as 2008 and 2002, the practice had been to resolve the confrontation discreetly.
This time, the whole crisis was played out on in the full media glare, something that unnerves the Chinese.