India and China held the 17th round of Corps Commander-level talks on December 20, at the Chushul-Moldo border meeting point on the Chinese side, during which they agreed to continue dialogue through military and diplomatic channels and work out a “mutually acceptable resolution of the remaining issues at the earliest,” the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said on Thursday.
The talks — which were not announced ahead of time, unlike in the past — came 10 days after soldiers of the two armies clashed at the Yangtse area in the Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh, resulting in injuries on both sides.
Building on the progress made after the last meeting on July 17, 2022, the two sides exchanged views on the resolution of the relevant issues along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the western sector in an “open and constructive manner,” said an MEA statement.
Maintaining security and stability
“They had a frank and in-depth discussion, keeping in line with the guidance provided by the State Leaders to work for the resolution of the remaining issues at the earliest which would help in restoration of peace and tranquility along the LAC in the Western Sector and enable progress in bilateral relations,” it stated. “In the interim, the two sides agreed to maintain the security and stability on the ground in the Western Sector.”
Since the standoff began in May 2020, the two sides have so far held 16 rounds of talks. Both sides disengaged from Pangong Tso in February 2021, from patrolling point 17 in the Gogra-Hot Springs area in August 2021 and from patrolling point 15 in early November. This is in addition to the disengagement from Galwan in 2020 after the violent clash there.
Friction points remain
Last month, Army Chief General Manoj Pande said that the situation along the LAC is “stable but unpredictable”, adding that five out of the seven friction points have been resolved, with the focus now on the remaining two points. Infrastructure development is going on “unabated”, he stated, noting that there are roads, helipads and airfields being built right upto the passes.
While India maintains that friction points at Demchok and Depsang remain, China has refused to accept it, terming them as legacy issues predating the 2020 standoff. Demchok is one of the two mutually agreed disputed areas in eastern Ladakh, while Depsang is one of the eight friction points in the area.
Over 50,000 troops and heavy equipment continue to be deployed on both sides, close to the LAC. In the last two years, China has also undertaken massive construction of infrastructure, habitat and support structures to maintain its troops close to the LAC, altering the ground status.
India has constantly stated that the relationship cannot go back to normal as long as the standoff situation continues, and has repeatedly called for restoration of status quo and restoration along the LAC.