India-China military talks fail to yield positive results
The 14th round of India-China military dialogue on Wednesday, like the 13th on October 10, failed to yield any positive outcomes, although both countries said they would work towards mutually acceptable solutions to resolving the 20-month long stand-off along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh.
The next round is expected to be held soon to continue the momentum of discussions.
On Thursday, a joint statement from the two armies issued in New Delhi and Beijing talked about a consensus on consolidating previous outcomes and taking steps for security and stability on the ground.
“The two sides had a frank and in-depth exchange of views for the resolution of the relevant issues along LAC in the western sector. They agreed that they should follow the guidance provided by the state leaders and work for the resolution of the remaining issues at the earliest,” the joint statement said, stressing that this would help restore peace along LAC and improve bilateral ties.
The statement was issued a day after Army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane said India will deal with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in a firm and peaceful way, but if it comes to war or conflict, the country will emerge victorious.
The two sides agreed to stay in close contact and carry on with the military and diplomatic dialogue to swiftly work out a mutually acceptable resolution of the remaining issues, the statement said. Both armies said the 15th round of corps commander-level talks should be held at the earliest.
Every single round of talks is not likely to lead to tangible outcomes, said former director general of military operations Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (retd).
“Talking with and to PLA is a laborious process and patience pays. The positive is that both sides are talking and have mutually agreed to carry the dialogue forward and hold it at an early date,” Bhatia added.
Although the January 12 talks lasted around 13 hours, the Indian side clearly failed to persuade PLA to disengage from Hot Springs near Kongka La and resolve patrolling rights issues in Depsang Bulge in Daulet Beg Oldi sector and Charding Nullah Junction (CNJ) in Demchok sector.
The statements clearly indicate that any mutually acceptable solution remains work in progress. This means both the Indian Army and PLA commanders will continue to engage in the future but there is no guarantee on whether PLA will restore April 2020 status in Gogra-Hot Springs or resolve the Depsang Bulge or CNJ issue.
The Indian Army is believed to have raised the issue of PLA building a bridge over Pangong Tso, east of Srijap Complex, for faster troop deployment and rapid militarisation of the occupied Aksai Chin area by the Chinese, all along the 597-km Ladakh LAC.
Analysts say that PLA, with a new border law and rapid military and technological upgradation on the Chinese side of the unresolved LAC is converting the 3,488 km LAC into a Line of Control (LOC). While the new border law passed by China in October 2021 isn’t directed at India, the country will be impacted by it. Among the provisions of the law are the placement of boundary markers to clearly mark China’s border and development of border areas, including a not-so-thinly veiled decision to settle civilians in these. The new law came into effect from January 1.
On Wednesday, General Naravane said the country is prepared to deal with any military ramifications of China’s new border law.
Both the Indian Army and PLA are locked in a stand-off all along Ladakh LAC after the Chinese Army under instructions from the Central Military Commission under President Xi Jinping decided to unilaterally change the LAC and impose the rejected 1959 cartographical line on the Ladakh LAC in May 2020. Since then, the two sides are fully deployed with more than three divisions of troops on each side with missile, rocket, artillery and tank regiments apart from their air forces being on standby in the hinterland.
PLA, by transgressing in Pangong Tso, Galwan, Gogra-Hot Springs area in May 2020, broke the bilateral 1993 and 1996 peace and tranquility agreements signed between the two countries at the level of heads of states.
While Beijing has sought to delink the border issue from other aspects of the relationship, the Modi government has decided that bilateral relations will remain in cold storage till such time Beijing does not resolve the Ladakh LAC issue.
The joint statement issued on Thursday appeared to strike a conciliatory note in contrast to separate statements issued by the two sides after the 13th round of talks --- while the Indian Army said PLA did not agree to suggestions made by it, China accused India of “unreasonable and unrealistic demands” in an unusually aggressive statement.
The focus of the current round of talks is on resolving outstanding problems at Hot Springs or Patrolling Point-15.
At his customary annual press briefing ahead of Army Day on January 15, Naravane was optimistic about the ongoing dialogue resulting in a breakthrough in resolving the LAC standoff though he said it was unreasonable to expect every single round of talks to end with an outcome.
“We have to keep talking to each other to understand each other’s viewpoints and perceptions and the differences, and every time we talk, the differences keep getting narrowed down. In this series of talks that is going on, we are hopeful that we will be able to resolve the issues at PP-15 and once that is done, we will go on to the other issues (Depsang) that predate the current standoff,” Naravane said.
The Indian Army’s patrolling activity has been affected in Hot Springs and PLA’s forward presence in Depsang has also hindered access of Indian soldiers to routes including the ones leading to PP-10, 11, 11-A, 12 and 13.
Despite three rounds of disengagement at friction points on LAC, the two armies still have 50,000 to 60,000 troops each and advanced weaponry deployed in the Ladakh theatre.