(This News Article Was Originally Posted on Economic Times)
New Delhi: India and China on Friday held a fresh round of diplomatic talks on the standoff along with the friction points of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) after a gap of more than two months and reached a conclusion to convene army commanders meet soon.
The virtual meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on border affairs was co-chaired by Naveen Srivastava, joint secretary (East Asia) of the external affairs ministry, and Hong Liang, director-general of the department of boundary and oceanic affairs of China’s foreign ministry.
The last meeting of WMCC held on September 30 too had failed to take forward the process of disengagement and de-escalation along the LAC.
The MEA said in a statement that the two sides reviewed developments on the LAC since the last meeting of WMCC and agreed to “continue to work towards ensuring complete disengagement in all friction points along the LAC in the Western Sector at the earliest”, in line with the guidance from senior leaders and agreements reached by the two foreign ministers and Special Representatives on the boundary issue.
The two sides also noted the seventh and eighth round of meetings between senior army commanders held on October 12 and November 6 had held in-depth discussions that had “contributed to ensuring stability on the ground”.
“Both sides agreed to maintain close consultations at the diplomatic and military level. They agreed that the next (9th) round of Senior Commanders meeting should be held at an early date so that both sides can work towards early and complete disengagement of troops along the LAC in accordance with the existing bilateral agreements and protocols, and fully restore peace and tranquillity,” the statement said.
A readout from the Chinese side said the two sides had a “candid and in-depth exchange of views on the situation” along the LAC and agreed to continue dialogue and consultation via diplomatic and military channels.
The readout added the two sides had decided to hold the 9th meeting of senior army commanders “as soon as The Chinese embassy’s readout further said the two sides had “agreed to earnestly implement the five-point consensus reached between the foreign ministers of both countries” when they met in Moscow on the margins of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting in September.
Friday’s meeting also “focused on the disengagement of frontline troops” and “concrete measures to deal with the issues on the ground to further deescalate the border situation”, the readout said.
The two sides “spoke highly of the outcomes of the 8th round of Senior Commanders Meeting” and also agreed to “properly deal with the outstanding issues on the ground, and jointly maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas”, the readout said.
India-China negotiations on restoring the status quo along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) as existed till April 2020 are stuck following PLA’s lack of assurance on withdrawing from Depsang.
China has been aggressively making efforts to unilaterally alter the LAC in the Despang plains by creating new facts on the ground to buttress its claims. China does not want to allow the Indian patrols to go beyond the Y-Junction.
We learned that China is trying to make India agree to the suggestion that while the Indian Army vacates its advantageous positions from the Kailash range, China would withdraw from Finger 4 to finger 8, without talking about Sepang. This would mean that while India gives up the gains acquired in August, China retains its gains.
The Chinese occupation of Despang could sandwich the Indian forces at Siachen between the Chinese and the Pak forces. More than its importance for the offensive operations, this area is important for India for the defense of the region. Hence, India is concerned about its security.
Given its strategic importance, India has to keep the area under its control. China had often tried to check the movement of the Indian Army beyond the Y Junction in the past also but allowed later. The Chinese claim line is about 1.5 km from the Indian position. After April, China is denying the Indian Army access to Patrolling Points from 10 to 13.
“The Despang area is crucial for the defense of Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DS-DBO) road that runs through this area that is in the proximity of strategic Karakoram Pass and its western edge abuts the southeast part of the Rimo glacier, which is an extension of the Siachen glacier. The Kailash range position is valuable as the Indian Army from there can watch the Chinese Moldo garrison. From the Indian point of view, any agreement for disengagement without ensuring the complete withdrawal of the PLA from the Despang plains as well would be illogical,” explained former Deputy NSA Dr. SD Pradhan.
China perceives that the LAC can be unilaterally changed by coercion and pushing India southwards in baby steps. In the last decade, China has been focussing to occupy the Despang sector, which has a great strategic value, sources told. Since 1962, China has a hold on the mountain spurs on the eastern edge of Sepang. The Chip Chap river valley, which opens into the Depsang Plains, is considered as an offensive route from Aksai Chin into Ladakh. The western edge of Depsang abuts the southeast part of the Rimo glacier, which is an extension of the Siachen glacier.
The southern edge of Depsang has a route to Sasoma in eastern Ladakh and on way is the Saser La pass at about 17,000 ft. From Sarcoma, there is a road into Gilgit Baltistan through Turtuk and Takashi (both on the Indian side). If the Saser La pass is captured by the PLA, then they can threaten the route to Siachen.
For China, this sector is also important as it provides access to the Karakoram Pass and a shorter route to Shaksgam Valley, which was illegally ceded to China by Pakistan in 1963. For India, this has a great strategic value as it separates the Chinese occupied Aksai China and our position in Siachen, where India is facing the Pak Army on the western side.
In 2013, the PLA established its camp at Raki Nula about 25 km south of DBO that created a crisis. This place is called Bottleneck between Raki and Jeevan nallahs or Y Junction. Up to Y Junction, the Indian patrols could reach by road, and then they have to move on foot. The north route via Raki nallah goes towards Patrolling Point 10 and the south route via Jeevan nallah goes to Patrolling Point 13. India had quickly responded by establishing its post near the Chinese post. The matter was resolved after negotiations with India keeping its patrolling rights from PP 10 to 13 up to April this year.