Chinese troops, locked in a staring match with Indian forces in Ladakh, started withdrawing on Thursday after President Xi Jinping told PM Narendra Modi that he was “sad” tensions between the armies had “cast a shadow” on his visit.
After an eight-day standoff, the temperature on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) started coming down after Modi raised the topic with Xi at their meeting at Hyderabad House in Delhi and Xi made his somewhat unexpected remarks to the Indian leader.
Xi’s words are intriguing because in addition to being head of state and head of the Communist party, he also sits at the top of China’s 1.5-million strong army. As paramount leader, he should have full control on what his men are doing on the disputed LAC, raising questions about why the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) intruded just before his state visit.
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Xi is learnt to have told Modi late on Wednesday in Ahmedabad that he had “passed on the message” to the PLA that they should disengage, but when there was no action, the topic came up again at their closed door tete-a-tete in Delhi, sources said.
Modi is understood to have asked that the status quo ante on the LAC be restored and the sides move towards resuming the process of clarifying the exact position of the Line.
“At point 30R, the Chinese have withdrawn nearly 1 km, and at two other positions, they have gone so far back that they are not visible in the night,” said a government source, adding that Indian troops had also begun pulling back.
The standoff between the troops at three places in Chumar in eastern Ladakh started on September 10. Chinese civilians also occupied territory claimed by the Indians, at Demchok in another part of Ladakh.
The situation reached such a pass that some 600 Indian troops massed at three points in Chumar, facing off against 230 intruding Chinese forces. The Indian Army placed the XIV Corps, responsible for defence of the Ladakh sector, on alert after a brigadier-level border personnel meeting (BPM) called at the behest of the PLA at Spanggur Gap on Wednesday yielded no results despite the two sides negotiating for over eight hours and into the night.
While the Chinese foreign office issued a statement saying the situation had been “effectively managed and controlled”, there was no evidence for some time on the ground that the PLA troops were making any significant move back.
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The PLA has mounted aerial surveillance and dropped supplies by helicopters since September 15. Two PLA helicopters were continuously observed at one of the points since mid-day on September 17 conducting surveillance, dropping tents and supplies. An Mi-17 chopper violated air space at another point and a fourth was sighted elsewhere in Chumar.
The Indian Army used unmanned aerial vehicles to monitor the movement of the Chinese PLA.
In Demchok, 60-70 Chinese Tibetan civilians, with tacit backing of the PLA, protested against India building an irrigation canal.
The Demchok village straddles the LAC, and the PLA maintains an observation tower in the vicinity.
At the border patrol meeting, the PLA demanded that Indians stop canal construction at Demchok while for their part refusing to stop construction of a rough track linking Manza and Keyuchung on the Chinese side with Chepzi, which the Indians claim is on their side of the LAC.
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