Both sides kept the dispute quarantined so far from bilateral ties

Though the third flag meeting on Tuesday could not resolve the India-China stand-off on the Ladakh border, both sides shared lunch at one of them while they went about identifying the source of discord.

This is contrary to the impression of a hostile situation at Debsang, where troops of both sides have erected tents facing each other.

Both sides have kept the dispute quarantined so far from overall bilateral ties. External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid's visit to Beijing a week from Wednesday and Li Keqiang's plan to make India his first overseas destination after becoming the new Premier of China in March remain on track. India wants the status quo before April 15 to prevail when troops from neither side was occupying this 17,000 feet high feature but would send patrols that would avoid confronting each other.

There was a slight escalation in the form of the Chinese side erecting a second tent, followed by a matching Indian riposte. But New Delhi feels the situation still remains confined to the same area and there has been no spatial spread.

In a delicate situation such as this, India has refrained from making accusations. The Chinese Foreign Office spokesperson toned down her remarks after sounding aggressive on the first day when her response was sought on the dispute.

The Indian Army has remained in charge of the talks at the ground level and the one change in three flag meetings has been the stepping up the delegation leader's rank. The Indian Army team at the third flag meeting was headed by a Brigadier.

Diplomats are simultaneously working the phone lines under the Foreign Ministry-headed Joint Mechanism on boundary issues. If need be, the seniority of army officers and diplomats quarter backing the talks will be stepped up.

By adopting this strategy, the political leadership has not entered the scene but has been regularly kept abreast of all exchanges, both at the Army and diplomatic levels

Hinting at a prior grievance, the Indian Express has reported that the Chinese side at the flag meeting had sought the removal of some recently constructed defences by the Indian Army. But there has been no Indian acknowledgement of such a demand having been made. However those in the know refer to the note of caution sounded by the Jammu & Kashmir government to activism by the security forces in portions of the border, where both sides lay claim to the same strips of territory as they don't agree on the alignment of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

India's public posture remains that this is a local level dispute, one that has happened in the past, but not to the extent of 40 Chinese troops squatting in a contested portion of land for over a fortnight.

And there was amusement at the suggestion that there was grand strategy behind the Chinese plan to camp near the recently activated Daulat Beg Oldi air field — that the Chinese want India to ease off their interest in South China Sea, both in Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay port and oil block no 128.