In marathon talks, India seeks de-escalation, Chinese retreat
A week after a brutal clash between soldiers from the Indian Army and China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in eastern Ladakh’s Galwan Valley, top military officials from the two sides held a marathon meeting on Monday at Moldo on the Chinese side of the contested Line of Actual Control (LAC) with a focus on cooling tensions and thinning military build-up on both sides of the border.
The Indian side was demanding the pullback of Chinese troops from the Finger Area (a cluster of strategic features in the north bank of Pangong Tso) where the PLA has set up bunkers, pillboxes and observation posts, according to two officials aware of the developments. They said the army was also demanding the withdrawal of PLA troops from Galwan Valley, the site of the deadly clash on June 15, and the restoration of status quo ante in key strategic areas.
The meeting between delegations led by Lieutenant General Harinder Singh, commander of the Leh-based 14 Corps, and Major General Liu Lin, commander of the South Xinjiang military region, began around 11.30am and was on till 10.15pm, the officials cited above said.
There was no official word from the army till the time of going to print.
The two officials familiar with the talks at the military level said India was seeking an assurance from the Chinese side on ending aggression along the border, after the deadly brawl at Gawlan Valley on June 15 and another face-off Pangong Tso on May 5-6. During both skirmishes, Chinese soldiers gathered in large numbers and attacked Indian troops with stones, iron rods and nail-studded clubs.
India was also demanding the thinning of Chinese military deployments in “depth areas” on their side of the disputed border, the officials said. The aim of the talks was also to restore status quo in the Finger Area, Gogra Post-Hot Springs and Galwan Valley, they said.
According to the officials, the army was especially concerned about the PLA’s presence in the Finger Area, especially Chinese activities between Finger 4 and Finger 8 over the last seven weeks, the officials said. Chinese military positions in the Finger Area restrict the scope of the Indian Army patrolling areas New Delhi considers its territory.
India also flagged concerns about a build-up of Chinese troops, armoured vehicles and artillery units in the Gogra Post-Hot Springs sector, north of Pangong Tso. The army wants the Chinese forces to move back from their current positions to areas where they were in early April.
This was the second meeting of two officers of corps commander rank who earlier met on June 6, when the two sides reached an understanding to implement a de-escalation plan to ease rising tensions along the contested border.
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But tensions peaked in the aftermath of the June 15 skirmish. It was the first deadly conflict between Indian and Chinese soldiers along the LAC in 45 years. According to India’s assessment, while the army lost 20 soldiers, the PLA’s casualties was more than twice that; but Beijing was yet to confirm the fatalities on its side.
Meanwhile, both sides have marshalled thousands of soldiers on their respective sides of the LAC, and the military build-up comprised fighter jets, helicopters, tanks, artillery guns and missile systems.
In another significant development, India changed its rules of engagement at the LAC last week, giving complete freedom of action to commanders deployed along the border to handle situations at the tactical level. Commanders are no longer bound by restrictions on the use of firearms and have full authority to respond to extraordinary situations using all resources at their disposal, as reported by Hindustan Times on Sunday.
Defence minister Rajnath Singh on Sunday made a detailed assessment of the situation at the disputed border and was briefed by the military brass about the preparations of the armed forces and their readiness to respond to any provocative actions by the Chinese forces.
And on Monday, the army’s top brass made a detailed assessment of the ground situation in eastern Ladakh. The developments along the LAC and the army’s operational readiness to handle any situation were discussed at the army commanders’ conference chaired by Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane.
General Naravane will visit Leh on Tuesday for a security review of the Ladakh sector. Senior officers will brief him on the latest developments along the border. This will be his second visit to Ladakh sector after the border standoff began in early-May. He had earlier visited Leh on May 22.
On June 13, General Naravane said disengagement of Indian and Chinese forces was taking place in a “phased manner” along the LAC with China where the situation is “under control.” He said the disengagement had begun as a result of military-level talks between the two sides, including the meeting between top Indian and Chinese commanders on June 6.
Intense negotiations through diplomatic and military channels, including three rounds of talks between major general-ranked officers, led to the release of 10 Indian soldiers detained by the Chinese side during the June 15 incident.