India, China troop disengagement in Ladakh is first step before de-escalation

S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi

Indian and Chinese military commanders will meet in the next few days to discuss comprehensive disengagement from all friction points in Ladakh as the first step towards de-escalation. This is the crucial outcome of a terse meeting between external affairs minister (EAM) S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.

“The immediate task is to ensure a comprehensive disengagement of troops in all friction areas so that there are no untoward incidents in future. The final disposition of the troop deployment to their permanent posts and the phasing of the process is to be worked out by military commanders on the ground. That de-escalation should follow comprehensive disengagement was agreed to by State Councillor Wang Yi,” said a senior government official.

While state councillor and Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi wanted the bilateral ties to continue on a parallel track with on-going border friction in East Ladakh, he had no answers to probing questions from EAM Jaishankar who asked him about the immense build-up by People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in occupied Aksai Chin. At present, the PLA has deployed more than 50,000 men, 150 aircraft, tanks and missiles to pressurize Indian Army on the LAC.

External affairs minister (EAM) held a detailed discussion with the state councillor and foreign minister of China Wang Yi in Moscow on 10 September 2020 on the current tensions in the India-China border areas. The meeting lasted two and a half hours.

Jaishankar underlined that since the resumption of Ambassadorial level relations in 1976 and holding of boundary talks since 1981, India-China relations have developed on a largely positive trajectory. While there have been incidents from time to time, peace and tranquillity have largely prevailed in the border areas. As a result, India-China cooperation also developed in a broad range of domains, giving the relationship a more substantive character. While the Indian side recognized that a solution to the boundary question required time and effort, it was also clear that the maintenance of peace and tranquillity on the border areas was essential to the forward development of ties. The recent incidents in eastern Ladakh, however, inevitably impacted the development of the bilateral relationship. Therefore, an urgent resolution of the current situation was in the interest of both nations.

In the meeting, the Indian side highlighted its strong concern at the massing of Chinese troops with equipment along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The presence of such a large concentration of troops was not in accordance with the 1993 and 1996 Agreements and created flashpoints along the LAC. The Chinese side has not provided a credible explanation for this deployment. The provocative behaviour of Chinese frontline troops at numerous incidents of friction along the LAC also showed disregard for bilateral agreements and protocols. The Indian side clearly conveyed that it expected full adherence to all agreements on the management of border areas and would not countenance any attempt to change the status quo unilaterally. It was also emphasized that the Indian troops had scrupulously followed all agreements and protocols pertaining to the management of the border areas.

 At the end of their discussions, the ministers reached an agreement on five points that will guide their approach to the current situation.

According to authoritative government sources, Jaishankar made it very clear to councillor Wang that positive bilateral ties in the past two decades were due to peace on the border and the PLA build-up had a direct implication on the relationship between two countries. “Jaishankar put across to Wang that good things in bilateral relations were due to peaceful borders, just as the relations will deteriorate if the borders are not quiet,” said a senior official.

Although state councillor Wang could not explain the sudden PLA build-up in the area in contravention with the 1993-96 agreement, he only talked about thinning of troops in the depth areas.

“The five-point joint statement are the issues on which the two sides agreed for disengagement on the border. The statement issued by the Chinese foreign ministry is their perception of the dialogue which was not agreed to by the Indian side. EAM Jaishankar said that the two sides should abide by the past agreements and protocols to make the border peaceful,” said an official from Moscow.

However, EAM Jaishankar was candid enough to tell his Chinese counterpart that there was no point of thinning troops in the depth areas when the front-line troops are at each other’s throats. The two ministers will now go back to the respective political leadership to get directions issued that comprehensive disengagement from all friction points will be the first step towards restoring peace to the border. “Given the upgrade of Chinese infrastructure in border areas as compared to India, the mutual disengagement is a must before thinning in-depth or else the PLA will occupy dominant heights on Line of Actual Control (LAC) faster than Indian Army,” said an official.