India nudges Beijing to walk the talk on Ladakh disengagement, China doesn’t budge
Thursday’s meeting of the India-China panel on border affairs, WMCC, was its fifth virtual meeting since the standoff along the Line of Actual Control in East Ladakh sector in early May.Updated: Aug 20, 2020, 22:07 IST
India and China were unable to bridge their differences on the disengagement and de-escalation process along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) during diplomatic talks on Thursday, with New Delhi emphasising the need to resolve “outstanding issues” speedily.
People familiar with developments during the meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on border affairs dismissed an assertion in a readout from the Chinese foreign ministry that the two sides had “positively evaluated the progress” in the disengagement process.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava told a virtual media briefing the two sides will continue to work towards “complete disengagement” on the LAC. “In this context, they agreed to resolve the outstanding issues in an expeditious manner and in accordance with existing agreements and protocols,” he added.
The WMCC meeting was co-chaired by joint secretary (East Asia) Naveen Srivastava of the external affairs ministry and Hong Liang, director general of the boundary and oceanic department of China’s foreign ministry. This was the body’s fifth virtual meeting since the Ladakh standoff along the disputed border emerged in the open in May.
The people cited above, speaking on condition of anonymity, rejected the Chinese foreign ministry’s assertion that the two sides had “positively evaluated” the progress in disengagement of troops at friction points on the LAC.
“That’s their assessment. It isn’t our assessment,” said one of the people. “The disengagement process is a work in progress and more needs to be done.”
The people pointed to the external affairs ministry spokesperson’s comments on August 14 about “some progress” being made in the disengagement process, and that translating the principles of disengagement on the ground is a “complex process that requires re-deployment of troops by each side towards their regular posts on their respective sides of the LAC”. This, they said, continues to be India’s position.
Spokesperson Srivastava characterised the discussions during the WMCC meeting as “candid and in-depth” and said the two sides “reaffirmed that in accordance with the agreements reached between the two foreign ministers and the two Special Representatives (SRs), the two sides will continue to sincerely work towards complete disengagement of the troops along the LAC in the western sector”.
“The two sides were in agreement that restoration of peace and tranquillity in the border areas would be essential for the overall development of bilateral relations,” Srivastava added.
The two sides acknowledged the need to maintain close communication through diplomatic and military channels to ensure complete disengagement, and agreed to continue ongoing engagements, including the meetings of WMCC, he said.
The Chinese foreign ministry’s readout, issued in Mandarin, said the two sides reviewed the situation in the border areas, “positively evaluated the progress made in the disengagement of the frontline forces of the two countries”, and had a frank and in-depth exchange on “remaining issues on the ground”.
The two sides “agreed to earnestly implement the consensus reached by the two countries’ foreign ministers and Special Representatives on border issues, continue to maintain dialogue and communication through military and diplomatic channels, promote further relaxation and cooling of the Sino-Indian border situation, properly handle remaining issues on the ground, and jointly maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas,” the readout added.
Experts believe India now has no other option but to prepare for deploying thousands of troops along the LAC during the winter as several rounds of talks at the military and diplomatic level haven’t led to the restoration of the status quo as it existed in April.
Christopher Clary, assistant professor of political science at the University at Albany, said: “It has been over 100 days since the first clashes at Pangong Tso and more than two months since the Galwan clash. While modest progress has been made, and it is a good sign both sides are talking, the reality is India shouldn’t expect talks will achieve much.”
India’s strategy of having “more video teleconferences with various Quad countries is probably insufficient to change China’s cost-benefit calculus”, he said.
“India can hope the nasty winter of eastern Ladakh might nudge China toward somewhat more disengagement, but it seems more likely Indian troops are facing additional long, cold months of forward deployments to prevent future Chinese land grabs,” Clary added.