India and China will hold Corps Commander-level talks next week after a gap of three months. Sources said the 14th round of the talks to resolve the 21-month-long standoff in eastern Ladakh will take place on January 12.
Lt Gen Anindya Sengupta will lead the Indian delegation at the talks. Sengupta, who took over as commander of the Leh-based XIV Corps on Tuesday from Lt Gen PGK Menon, was also part of the previous round of talks, during which the Indian delegation was led by Menon.
The latest round of talks comes on the heels of a series of incidents that have affected the already soured relationship between the two countries. The incidents include China’s move to announce its own names for more than 15 places in Arunachal Pradesh; the Chinese embassy sending stern letters to Indian parliamentarians for attending a reception hosted by the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile last month; and China building a bridge on Pangong Tso in an area that India says is illegally occupied.
Expressing India’s displeasure regarding these incidents, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said on Thursday: “We hope that instead of engaging in such antics, China will work constructively with us to resolve the outstanding friction points in areas along the Western Sector of the LAC in India-China border areas.”
Going into the previous round of talks, which took place on October 10 on the Chinese side of the Chushul-Moldo border personnel meeting point, India had expected that China would agree to disengage from Patrolling Point (PP) 15 in Hot Springs. However, not only was there no breakthrough, the countries issued statements blaming each other after the meeting. India had said that during the discussions, it emphasised that “such resolution of the remaining areas would facilitate progress in bilateral relations” and had made “constructive suggestions for resolving the remaining areas”. However, it said, “The Chinese side was not agreeable and also could not provide any forward-looking proposals.”
Of the friction points that had, according to the government, come up in May 2020, disengagement has taken place in four out of five, while Hot Springs remains outstanding. However, there are two other points in the region that remain unresolved.
In Depsang Plains, close to India’s Daulat Beg Oldi base, Chinese troops are blocking Indian soldiers from accessing their traditional patrolling limits: PP10, PP11, PP11A, PP12 and PP13. In Demchok, some “so-called civilians” have pitched tents on the Indian side of the Charding Nala, which marks the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Till now, the two sides have disengaged from PP14 in Galwan Valley, north and south banks of Pangong Tso, and PP17A in Gogra Post. The first disengagement took place in Galwan Valley just days after the deadly clashes in June 2020, in which 20 Indian and at least four Chinese troops were killed.
After that, there was a long stalemate, and China refused to move from other areas.
At the end of August 2020 Indian troops outmanoeuvered Chinese forces to capture previously unoccupied heights of Kailash Range in the Chushul sub-sector south of the Pangong lake. The heights, including Mukhpari, Gurung Hill, Rezang La and Rechin La allowed India to dominate not only the strategically sensitive Spanggur Gap, but also China’s Moldo Garrison.
In subsequent days, Indian troops also occupied positions above the Chinese troops on the north bank of Pangong Tso in the finger area. Warning shots were fired by both sides during this jostling for heights. Troops and tanks were barely a few hundred metres apart at some of these positions in the Kailash Range, and in an unprecedented deployment, soldiers spent harsh winters at these heights.
It was during the discussions between the Corps Commanders in January 2021 that a breakthrough was achieved. In February 2021, both sides pulled back their soldiers and tanks from the forward positions on the north and south bank of Pangong Tso, including the Kailash Range positions. The next thaw came in July 2021, as the two sides reached an agreement to disengage from PP17A in Gogra Post. In all the positions where the disengagement has taken place, a temporary no-patrol zone has been created.
Both India and China have over 50,000 troops each in the eastern Ladakh theatre, along with additional missiles, air defence assets, tanks and artillery guns.