China's new claim on PLA disengagement in eastern Ladakh’s Hot Spring area | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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China's new claim on PLA disengagement in eastern Ladakh’s Hot Spring area

BySutirtho Patranobis, , Beijing /new Delhi
Mar 16, 2022 07:03 AM IST

China has said for the first time that soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have disengaged in the Hot Spring area of Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh.

China has said for the first time that soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have disengaged in the Hot Spring area of Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, though people familiar with the matter said not all areas of contention in this sector have been cleared.

The Chinese foreign ministry told HT that China is working closely with India to reach an acceptable solution to the standoff in eastern Ladakh ‘as soon as possible’. (AP file)
The Chinese foreign ministry told HT that China is working closely with India to reach an acceptable solution to the standoff in eastern Ladakh ‘as soon as possible’. (AP file)

The Chinese foreign ministry told HT that China is working closely with India to reach an acceptable solution to the standoff in eastern Ladakh “as soon as possible”, and claimed that troop disengagement has taken place at Galwan Valley, Pangong Lake and Hot Spring.

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Despite numerous rounds of diplomatic and military talks over the past two years, the two nations have been unable to end the nearly 22-month standoff. India has only acknowledged disengagement of front line forces on the northern and southern banks of Pangong Lake and at Gogra.

Following the 15th round of talks between military commanders on March 11, HT had reached out to the Chinese foreign ministry for its response on the negotiations. The ministry responded with a brief statement in Mandarin.

“China and India held the 15th round of commander-level talks on March 11 and issued a joint press release,” the statement said. “Since last year, the two sides have successively achieved disengagement in the Galwan Valley, Pangong Lake and Hot Spring areas. The current situation on the ground is stable and controllable.”

On the talks, the foreign ministry said: “The two sides agreed to maintain dialogue through military and diplomatic channels to reach a mutually acceptable solution as soon as possible.”

The Chinese statement didn’t mention areas where disengagement is yet to be completed, or why the process is being prolonged.

Not all areas of contention at Hot Spring had not been cleared, people familiar with the matter made it clear, while declining to go into details. The last round of disengagement was done by pulling back front line troops from Gogra or patrolling point 17A during August 4-5, 2021, the people said.

This was in line with an agreement reached during the 12th round of military talks on July 31, 2021.

The troops deployed at Gogra from both sides returned to their permanent bases. All temporary structures and allied infrastructure created in the area by both sides were dismantled and mutually verified.

The people also referred to the joint statement issued after the latest military talks, which said the two sides had carried forward their discussions for the “resolution of the relevant issues along the LAC in the Western Sector”.

The two sides had agreed to maintain dialogue via military and diplomatic channels to reach a “mutually acceptable resolution of the remaining issues at the earliest”, the joint statement further said.

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Until now, China has only officially acknowledged the withdrawal of troops from Pangong Lake area in February 2021 and from Galwan Valley the year before. The Chinese government and PLA remained silent when India announced the disengagement of troops at Gogra in August 2021.

Beijing’s silence had raised questions about the actual situation on the ground. It is also not clear why China has now claimed that disengagement at Hot Spring has been completed.

The most recent talks at the diplomatic and military levels have focused on disengagement at Depsang and Demchok, also called the Charding Nurlung Nalah junction, the people cited above said.

The phrase “as soon as possible” in the Chinese foreign ministry’s statement to HT could reflect Beijing’s desire not to see a flare-up in tensions in the coming months, especially in the run-up to the twice-in-a-decade Communist Party of China Congress – a reshuffle of the top leadership where President Xi Jinping is expected to secure an unprecedented third term. This is expected in the second half of 2022.

New Delhi has made it clear to Beijing that complete disengagement and de-escalation at all friction points on the LAC are essential for bilateral ties to get back on track. China has argued the boundary dispute should not define the entire bilateral relationship and the two countries should move forward on issues such as trade, but this has been rejected by the Indian government.

Last week, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said that differences over the LAC and “recent setbacks” in ties shouldn’t impact the overall bilateral relationship, but didn’t elaborate on how to resolve the ongoing crisis.

Both sides have deployed tens of thousands of troops in Ladakh and created a network to support these forces throughout the year. China has stepped up the construction of infrastructure, including roads and a bridge across Pangong Lake, to facilitate troop movement. It has also increased the construction of villages close to the LAC to buttress its claims on disputed regions.

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