Because of Beijing’s adamant opposition to New Delhi’s proposal that all remaining friction points on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) be dealt with in one go, India and China have been unable to agree on a date for the next round of military talks on disengagement and de-escalation in the Ladakh sector.
According to people familiar with the matter, the Indian side has sent several proposals for the next round of talks, as well as agenda items, since the 13th round of talks between senior military commanders of the two sides took place on October 10 last year at the Chushul-Moldo border meeting point.
According to the people, the Indian side maintained in these proposals that all friction points between Depsang and Chumar should be addressed collectively in the talks between military commanders so that there can be comprehensive disengagement and de-escalation in the LAC’s Ladakh sector.
“This is not acceptable to the Chinese.” Every proposal from the Indian side has elicited a different response from them. Their goals keep shifting, and we’re not sure which of their proposals should be taken seriously,” one of the cited individuals said on the condition of anonymity.
Despite a decision made at the last meeting of the India-China Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on border affairs on November 18 that the 14th round of military commander talks should be held “as soon as possible to achieve the objective of complete disengagement from all friction points along the LAC…in accordance with the existing bilateral agreements and protocols,” Beijing’s dithering has continued.
According to the people, the two sides were close to moving forward on disengagement at Hot Spring during the 13th round of talks between military commanders. The Chinese side, on the other hand, was represented by the deputy to the corps commander, who remained absent, and he was not authorised to make a decision, according to the sources.
“The Indian side…made constructive suggestions for resolving the remaining areas,” India said after the last talks, “but the Chinese side was not agreeable and also could not provide any forward-looking proposals.”
With mounting evidence of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) beefing up infrastructure, roads, bridges, helipads, dual-use airports, and missile and air defence positions on its side in the Ladakh sector, the Indian security establishment has concluded that the Chinese side is not serious about the negotiations.
“They appear to want to drag this out as long as possible.” “They aren’t serious about disengagement,” a second source said, referring to China’s responses to the Indian side’s agenda items.
For the second consecutive winter, tens of thousands of Indian and Chinese troops have dug in in the Ladakh sector, with no immediate signs of an end to the standoff, which began in May 2020 and resulted in the first fatalities along the LAC since 1975. In June 2020, a brutal clash at Galwan Valley claimed the lives of twenty Indian soldiers and at least four Chinese troops.
After several rounds of talks, the two sides withdrew frontline troops from Pangong Lake and Gogra last year, but there has been no progress on disengagement at other flashpoints since August 2021. India has linked the resolution of the standoff to the normalisation of overall ties with China.
Satellite imagery showing a new bridge being built to link the north and south banks of Pangong Lake in order to drastically reduce the time needed to deploy large numbers of troops from positions in depth to key friction points was the latest evidence of the PLA settling in for the long haul. In addition, the Chinese side has constructed or improved roads and bridges in a variety of sectors, including repaving existing roads and constructing alternative routes.
There are several friction points between Depsang and Chumar. For more than two years, PLA troops have attempted to block Indian patrols in the strategic Depsang region, about 30 kilometres south of Daulat Beg Oldi, which is home to a key airbase. In 2013, Depsang was also the site of a three-week standoff.
The main issue in Chumar has been Chinese construction around the Chepzi-Chumar road. In 2014, a brief standoff occurred in this area, which began on the eve of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India.
Demchok, which was also the site of a standoff in November 2016, is another point of contention.
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