India, China hold one more round of talks
Indian and Chinese diplomats held another round of dialogue on the border standoff on Wednesday with little to show beyond a commitment to implement decisions made at the last round of military talks about maintaining stability along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The latest virtual meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on border affairs provided both sides an opportunity to review the situation along the LAC and to hold “frank and detailed discussions” on developments since the body’s last meeting on August 20, the external affairs ministry said in a statement.
Both the Indian statement and a readout in Mandarin from China’s foreign ministry said the two sides “positively evaluated” the outcome of the sixth military commanders’ meeting on September 21.
“They emphasised the need to implement the steps outlined in the joint press release issued after the last meeting of the senior commanders so as to avoid misunderstandings and to maintain stability on the ground,” the Indian statement said.
“In this context, the need to strengthen communication, especially between the ground commanders, was emphasised by both sides,” it added.
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The Chinese readout spoke about following up on decisions made by the military commanders, including properly handling the remaining local issues and jointly maintaining peace in the border areas while maintaining dialogue.
The military commanders, at their last meeting, agreed to “stop sending more troops to the frontline, refrain from unilaterally changing the situation on the ground, and avoid taking any actions that may complicate the situation”.
They had also agreed to implement the consensus reached by the leaders of India and China, strengthen communication, and avoid misunderstandings and misjudgements.
People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that both sides were focused on ensuring there were no more flare-ups in the aftermath of several incidents earlier this month that saw Indian and Chinese troops firing warning shots – the first time guns were used along the LAC since 1975.
Both sides have mobilised some 50,000 troops each in the Ladakh sector and the soldiers are now preparing to dig in for the harsh winter, when temperatures can dip as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius.
Asked about the WMCC meeting at a regular news briefing in Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said: “The main topics discussed are how to implement the five-point consensus reached in Moscow (on September 10) by the two foreign ministers to resolve outstanding issues on the ground and to ease the situation along the border.”
The WMCC meeting, co-chaired by joint secretary (East Asia) Naveen Srivastava of the external affairs ministry and Hong Liang, director of the boundary and oceanic department of China’s foreign ministry, attached importance to the meetings of the two defence ministers and the two foreign ministers in Moscow earlier this month.
“They also noted that the agreement between the two foreign ministers should be sincerely implemented to ensure disengagement at all the friction points along the LAC,” the Indian statement said, referring to a five-point roadmap the two ministers had agreed on.
Both sides further agreed to continue close consultations at the diplomatic and military levels, and that the seventh meeting of the military commanders should be held at an early date so that the two sides “can work towards early and complete disengagement of the troops along the LAC in accordance with the existing bilateral agreement and protocols, and fully restore peace and tranquillity”, the Indian statement added.
The Chinese readout said the two sides would implement the five-point roadmap reached by the two foreign ministers, strictly abide by border affairs agreements and take practical measures to improve and further cool down the situation and avoid any actions that may complicate it.
The five-point roadmap agreed on by external affairs minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi includes dialogue aimed at quick disengagement, maintaining proper distance between troops of the two sides and easing tensions, abiding by all agreements and protocols on border management, continuing dialogue through the Special Representatives mechanism and the WMCC, and working on new confidence-building measures once the situation eases.
This was the WMCC’s sixth virtual meeting since the standoff in the Ladakh sector emerged in the open in May.
The sharp differences that persist between New Delhi and Beijing became public this week, with India dismissing China’s contention that it abides by a 1959 definition of the LAC, the notional alignment dividing the two countries.
Sameer Patil, fellow for international security studies at Gateway House, said: “It is the stalemate which is doing the talking. This is about both sides wanting to continue the negotiations but knowing that they won’t budge from their stated positions.
“It’s somewhat akin to what used to happen under the Special Representatives mechanism – both sides would meet every year to take stock of the situation and agree to meet again. If there is no movement from the Chinese side, India can’t offer anything, and that is another sign of the stalemate.”