China-India talks on border remain deadlocked

Published December 19, 2020
India's Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint along a highway leading to Ladakh, at Gagangeer in Kashmir's Ganderbal district. — Reuters/File
India's Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint along a highway leading to Ladakh, at Gagangeer in Kashmir's Ganderbal district. — Reuters/File

NEW DELHI: Indian and Chinese foreign ministry officials held another round of talks on Friday but didn’t report any breakthrough in ending a months-long military standoff along their disputed border in eastern Ladakh.

The two sides agreed to continue to work towards a complete disengagement of troops at all friction points along the Line of Actual Control, Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said.

The standoff between the Asian giants erupted into a fierce brawl in May and worsened into hand-to-hand combat on June 15 with soldiers using clubs, stones and fists, leaving 20 Indian troops dead.

China is believed to also have suffered casualties, but has not given any details.

The foreign ministry officials met via video conferencing on Friday and reviewed developments since their last meeting in September, Srivastava said in a statement.

They agreed that senior army commanders from the two sides should meet at an early date “so that both sides can work toward early and complete disengagement of troops along the LAC in accordance with the existing bilateral agreements and protocols, and fully restore peace and tranquility, the statement said.

Senior army commanders have met eight times since May.

India and China have each stationed tens of thousands of soldiers backed by artillery, tanks and fighter jets despite the harsh winter weather in the cold-desert region, where temperatures can fall to minus 50 degrees Celsius (minus 58 Fahrenheit).

The fiercely contested Line of Actual Control separates Chinese-held and Indian-held territories from Ladakh in the west to India’s eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims in its entirety. It is broken in parts where the Himalayan nations of Nepal and Bhutan border China.

India claims the Chinese-controlled Aksai Chin plateau as part of the Ladakh region.

According to India, the control line is 3,488 kilometers (2,167 miles) long, while China says it is considerably shorter. The line divides the areas of physical control rather than territorial claims.

The two countries fought a border war in 1962 that spilled into Ladakh and ended in an uneasy truce. Since then, troops have guarded the undefined border and occasionally brawled.India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said commander-level talks in the last two months had led to “stability on the ground” and that more efforts would be made to restore peace.

The diplomats at Friday’s meeting concurred that the next round of talks between senior commanders should be held soon so that both sides could work towards “early and complete disengagement of troops” along the de facto border known as the Line of Actual Control.

Since the June killing of the Indian soldiers by Chinese troops using rocks and clubs, the nuclear-armed rivals have sent tens of thousands of troops to the rugged frontier between India’s Ladakh region and the Chinese-held Tibetan plateau.

Indian officials said last month that in a bid to ease the border tension, the neighbours were formulating a plan that involved creating no-patrol zones, pulling back tanks and artillery, and using drones to verify withdrawal from the confrontation site.

It was not immediately clear how the de-escalation efforts were playing out on the ground, but India has actively worked against imports of Chinese goods and their local businesses since the border conflict.

China, however, has surprisingly been buying more rice and steel from India.

Published in Dawn, December 19th, 2020

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