India and China will take up remaining issues along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) once the ongoing disengagement at Patrolling Point (PP) 15 in Gogra-Hot Springs is completed by Monday, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said on Friday.
Beijing welcomed the disengagement at PP15 as “a positive development”, but reiterated its stand that it would not accept India’s demand to restore the status quo prior to China’s transgressions, saying “the status quo of April 2020… was created by India’s illegal crossing of the Line of Actual Control [LAC]”.
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“China will by no means accept that,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told reporters when asked if the latest disengagement would pave the way to full restoration of the status quo. “We don’t accept the so-called status quo created by India’s illegal crossing of the LAC, but that doesn’t mean we don’t attach importance to peace and tranquillity along the border…..China and India hold different positions on the border issues. But what is most important now is for both sides to keep up communication and dialogue, make the disengagement a first step and ensure peace and tranquillity along the border. The beginning of disengagement is a positive development.”
Beijing’s comments suggested difficulties may still lie ahead for both sides as they look to resolve differences in the remaining friction areas in Demchok and Depsang. Only after full disengagement and subsequent de-escalation of the more than 50,000 troops on each side that remain deployed in forward areas, India has made clear, can relations return to normalcy.
India and China have completed disengagement in five other areas — PP15 being the latest — creating buffer zones in Galwan Valley, north and south of Pangong Lake, and in PP17A in Hot Springs.
The timing of the announcement on PP15 did, however, also suggest both sides appeared to be looking to create conditions that might enable a first meeting between their leaders after close to three years.
SCO summit next week
The MEA statement said disengagement at PP15 would be completed by September 12 — three days before the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping would likely attend in Samarkand, convenes. Neither side has commented on whether the two leaders, who haven’t spoken since a November 2019 meeting in Brasilia or during the more than two-year-long LAC crisis, will meet on the sidelines at the SCO or at the G20 in Indonesia in November.
As per Thursday’s agreement, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said the disengagement process in the area started on Thursday at 8.30 a.m. IST and would be completed by Monday.
“The two sides have agreed to cease forward deployments in this area in a phased, coordinated and verified manner, resulting in the return of the troops of both sides to their respective areas,” Mr. Bagchi said. “It has been agreed that all temporary structures and other allied infrastructure created in the area by both sides will be dismantled and mutually verified. The landforms in the area will be restored to pre-stand-off period by both sides. The agreement ensures that the LAC in this area will be strictly observed and respected by both sides, and that there will be no unilateral change in status quo.”
Mr. Bagchi made it clear that “with the resolution of stand-off at PP15, both sides mutually agreed to take the talks forward and resolve the remaining issues along LAC and restore peace and tranquillity in border areas.”
But that will be easier said than done, as indicated both by China’s comments on Friday and how difficult recent negotiations have been in resolving what were seen as among the less complicated friction points.
The PP15 disengagement came more than one year after an agreement was reached for PP17A, last August. In recent talks, officials said, the Chinese side appeared reluctant to discuss reasonable terms to disengage in Demchok and Depsang, where India’s access to five patrolling points has been blocked since early 2020.
‘Conducive to peace’
China termed the PP15 agreement “a positive development” that “will help facilitate the sound and steady development of bilateral relations”. “The fact that China and India agreed to begin disengagement in the area of Jianan Daban [as China refers to the PP15 area] is a positive development that is conducive to peace and tranquillity along the border,” Ms. Mao said. “China is committed to properly handling relevant issues through communication and dialogue.”
That might not, however, mean full disengagement may be on the cards soon. Ms. Mao repeated the position taken by Chinese officials that the April status quo was a result of India’s “trespassing” in Galwan Valley and elsewhere. Chinese experts have also suggested Beijing would only recognise the LAC of November 1959 as the status quo. India has made clear that Beijing’s moves in 2020 to unilaterally enforce its version of the LAC had contravened past agreements between the two sides, including a commitment to clarify their differing perceptions of their LAC and keep their forces to a minimum level.