India, China to hold 13th round of military talks, Hot Springs to be in focus
The Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will on Sunday hold the next round of military talks to cool tensions along the contested Line of Actual Control (LAC), with the dialogue expected to focus on hammering out a disengagement plan for rival frontline soldiers deployed at Hot Springs, which is one of the friction points on LAC, officials familiar with the developments said on Saturday.
The 13th round of talks between corps commander-ranked officers will be held at Moldo on the Chinese side of LAC, said one of the officials cited above. It will begin at 10.30 am. The last round of military talks was held on August 2 after which the two armies pulled back their forward deployed troops from Gogra or Patrol Point-17A, which was one of the friction points on LAC.
It was the second round of disengagement this year after the two sides pulled back their troops and weaponry from the Pangong Tso sector in mid-February.
“Problems at Hot Springs or Patrol Point-15 are likely to be discussed during the talks. We are hopeful of positive outcomes that will take the disengagement process forward,” said a second official.
If PLA is there to stay in the Ladakh theatre, so is the Indian Army, army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane said on the eve of the talks, referring to the massive military buildup and infrastructure development by the neighbouring army across LAC.
“It is a matter of concern that the large-scale buildup that occurred last year (when the border row erupted) continues to be in place. To sustain that kind of buildup, there has been an equal amount of infrastructure development on the Chinese side. It means that they (PLA) are there to stay. But if they are there to stay, we are there to stay too,” he said at the India Today conclave.
India and China have been locked in a border standoff for 17 months and despite two rounds of disengagement at friction points this year, the two sides still have 50,000 to 60,000 troops each in the Ladakh theatre.
The 13th round of military dialogue follows a face-off between Indian and Chinese soldiers along LAC in Arunachal Pradesh’s sensitive Tawang sector last week and another incursion by PLA in Uttarakhand on August 30.
“PLA plans to keep the entire border active so that they can keep reinforcing their claims. It can also be an act of creeping assertiveness to subsequently lay a claim to these areas,” former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General BS Jaswal (retd) said on Friday.
Top Indian and Chinese commanders agreed to a speedy resolution of outstanding issues on LAC at the 12th round of talks, with the dialogue focusing on disengagement of rival troops from the remaining flashpoints on the contested border.
A joint statement issued after the 12th round described the talks as “a candid and in-depth exchange of views on resolution of remaining areas related to disengagement along LAC in the Western Sector of India-China border areas.”
After the disengagement of troops from Gogra, former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda (retd) said, “Hopefully, it can provide grounds for further disengagement in other areas. The real test will come when Depsang is discussed, and a breakthrough here could lead to a major de-escalation.” To be sure, the problems at Depsang predate the current border standoff.