LAC standoff: India, China push back amid Hot Springs retreat

Updated on Sep 10, 2022 08:32 AM IST

The two sides on Thursday announced the disengagement of troops in the area of Gogra-Hot Springs, also known as patrolling point-15, or PP-15, in line with consensus reached at a meeting of senior military commanders on July 17.

A brutal clash between the two sides at Galwan Valley in June 2020 resulted in the death of 20 Indian soldiers and at least four Chinese troops and took bilateral ties to an all-time low.(ANI File Photo)
A brutal clash between the two sides at Galwan Valley in June 2020 resulted in the death of 20 Indian soldiers and at least four Chinese troops and took bilateral ties to an all-time low.(ANI File Photo)
ByRezaul H Laskar & Sutirtho Patranobis

A day after India and China announced that their troops would disengage at the Hot Springs area in the ongoing stand-off along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), New Delhi pushed for taking talks forward to address remaining friction points, even as Beijing indicated that it does not accept the April 2020 status quo.

Earlier on Friday, India said disengagement of Indian and Chinese troops at Hot Springs will be completed by September 12, and that both sides have agreed to take forward talks to resolve the remaining issues on the LAC.

Both countries, however, refused to comment on a possible meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) — of which both are members — in Samarkand in Uzbekistan next week.

The two sides on Thursday announced the disengagement of troops in the area of Gogra-Hot Springs, also known as patrolling point-15, or PP-15, in line with consensus reached at a meeting of senior military commanders on July 17.

“As per the agreement, the disengagement process in this area started on 08 September 2022 at 0830 hrs and will be completed by 12 September 2022,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said. “With the resolution of stand-off at PP-15, both sides mutually agreed to take the talks forward and resolve the remaining issues along LAC and restore peace and tranquillity in India-China border areas,” he said.

The development at PP-15 triggered speculation about the possibility of a meeting between Modi and Xi at Samarkand next week.

But China on Friday also blamed India for the ongoing military tension along the LAC in eastern Ladakh, saying the Indian side had trespassed across the disputed boundary in 2020 — a contention that India has consistently denied.

People familiar with the matter described the disengagement at PP-15 as a “positive” development but noted that this did not mean everything was well in the border areas.

“A lot more needs to be done,” one of the people cited above said. In this context, they pointed to the need for further talks to address outstanding friction points on the LAC.

Beijing, too, confirmed that the disengagement process of front line troops had begun from PP-15 area in eastern Ladakh, in a brief defence ministry statement, released both in Chinese and English.

“On 8th September, 2022, according to the consensus reached in the 16th Round of China-India Corps Commander Level Meeting, the Chinese and Indian troops in the area of Jianan Daban have begun to disengage in a coordinated and planned way, which is conducive to the peace and tranquillity in the border areas”.

The Chinese defence ministry’s statement on the disengagement linked it to the 16th round of military talks conducted at the level of the India-China Corp Commanders, which was held in July at the Chushul-Moldo border meeting point on the Indian side.

The “Jianan Daban” area mentioned in the Chinese statement is the same as PP-15 or Gogra-Hotsprings, mentioned in the Indian official statement on disengagement released Thursday evening.

Hot Springs is only the third friction point in Ladakh sector of the LAC where the two sides have agreed to withdraw front line troops after more than two dozen rounds of diplomatic and military talks since the military standoff emerged in the open in May 2020. They earlier withdrew troops from the north and south banks of Pangong Lake and at Gogra.

A brutal clash between the two sides at Galwan Valley in June 2020 resulted in the death of 20 Indian soldiers and at least four Chinese troops and took bilateral ties to an all-time low. Both sides have arrayed almost 50,000 troops each in the Ladakh sector.

Bagchi said the 16th round of talks between the corps commanders of India and China was held at the Chushul Moldo meeting point on July 17. “Since then, the two sides had maintained regular contact to build on the progress achieved during the talks to resolve the relevant issues along the LAC in the Western Sector of India-China border areas,” he said.

“As a result, both sides have now agreed on disengagement in the area of Gogra-Hot Springs,” he said.

The two sides have agreed to “cease forward deployments in this area in a phased, coordinated and verified manner, resulting in the return of the troops of both sides to their respective areas”, Bagchi added.

The two sides have agreed that all temporary structures and other allied infrastructure created in the area by both sides “will be dismantled and mutually verified”.

“The landforms in the area will be restored to pre-stand-off period by both sides,” Bagchi said.

“The agreement ensures that the LAC in this area will be strictly observed and respected by both sides, and that there will be no unilateral change in status quo,” he said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Mao Ning said on Friday that the disengagement is the “outcome of multiple rounds of talks in a period of time between the two sides’ military and diplomatic establishments at various levels, and is conducive to peace and stability.”

“(The)Two sides conducted frank and intense exchange of views and both sides agreed to resolve and discuss settlement of relevant issues along the LAC in the western section of the China India border,” Mao added.

The Indian side has accused the Chinese side of unilaterally attempting to alter the status quo on the LAC, and external affairs minister S Jaishankar has linked the normalisation of overall ties to the restoration of peace and tranquillity in the border areas. New Delhi has insisted that China revert to the April 2020 status quo.

Blame game

China on Friday blamed India for the military tension along the LAC.

“China always conducts normal activities in line with agreements between the two countries. We also ask (the) Indian side to observe relevant agreements. The so-called status quo in April 2020 as you mentioned was created by illegal trespassing on the Indian side. China never accepts that,” Mao said on Friday, responding to a question on the disengagement.

“We do not accept the [April 2020] status quo. This doesn’t mean we do not value the peace and stability there. I should say both sides have always been in contact on this issue,” she added.

India did not immediately respond the Chinese foreign ministry statement..

Mao said China and India have different views on the boundary question, adding that it wasn’t the first time China had stated its position on the issue.

“What matters most at this moment is we have communications through diplomatic channels, to start with disengagement and (to) do what we should do on both sides to ensure peace and stability in border areas,” she said.

Interestingly, China had said in March, for the first time in an exclusive statement to HT, that soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had disengaged in the Hot Springs area — a claim which was questioned by the Indian side.

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.

Not all areas of contention at Hot Springs had been cleared, people familiar with the matter had then said in New Delhi, without going into details. They had said the last round of disengagement was done by pulling back frontline troops from Gogra or patrolling point 17A during August 4-5, 2021.

Until the statement in March, China had only officially acknowledged the withdrawal of troops from the 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.

New Delhi has made it repeatedly 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, a bilateral policy track that has been rejected by the Indian government.

Sameer Patil, senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), said: “The agreement on disengagement at PP-15 notwithstanding, India has to be mindful of Chinese tactics. Previous disengagements at Pangong Lake and Gogra had not really brought about a change either in Chinese attitude or their position on the border standoff. Therefore, some degree of scepticism on the Indian side is warranted.”

“Ultimately, the resolution of the Galwan Valley military standoff should aim at a complete disengagement based on a final consensus between the two sides,” Zhao Gancheng, from the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, told the state-run tabloid, Global Times, in context of the new round of disengagement.

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