India and China, on Thursday, announced that their armies have begun to disengage from Patrolling Point-15 in the Gogra-Hotsprings area of Eastern Ladakh, marking a step forward to end the standoff ongoing since May 2020.
The move comes ahead of next week’s Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Uzbekistan, which both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping are attending.
Neither side has so far confirmed if the two leaders would hold bilateral talks on the sidelines of the summit, who haven’t spoken since a November 2019 meeting during the BRICS Summit in Brasilia and the beginning of the standoff in April 2020.
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“On September 08, 2022, according to the consensus reached in the 16th round of India China Corps Commander Level Meeting, the Indian and Chinese troops in the area of Gogra-Hotsprings (PP-15) have begun to disengage in a coordinated and planned way, which is conducive to the peace and tranquility in the border areas,” the two sides said in a joint statement issued on Thursday.
The consensus was reached at the Corps Commander level and the ground commanders on both sides have worked out the modalities which are now being implemented, a defence official said, The disengagement began today morning and is underway, the official said adding further details on the modalities are awaited.
The 16th round of talks was held on July 17, 2022, at the Chushul border personnel meeting point on the Indian side.
As per the understanding reached earlier on disengagement, a buffer zone is to be created at the friction points once troops are withdrawn by both sides and new patrolling norms are to be worked out after complete disengagement and de-escalation.
Since the stand-off began in May 2020, the two sides have so far held 16 rounds of talks with disengagement undertaken from both sides of Pangong Tso in February 2021, and from PP-17 in the Gogra-Hotsprings area in August, in addition to Galwan in 2020 after the violent clash. The friction points that remain now are Demchok and Depsang, which China has constantly refused to accept, maintaining that they are not a part of the current stand-off. India will continue to press for complete disengagement and de-escalation from all friction areas and the Corps Commander level talks will continue, officials stated.
Earlier, both sides had undertaken partial disengagement from PP15 and 17A in July 2020 after disengagement from PP14 in Galwan, but the process was stalled after the aggressive actions on the South Bank of Pangong Tso in August 2020.
Shortly after the 15th round of talks in March, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited India, while he and Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar met in July on the sidelines of the G20 foreign ministers meeting in Bali, where they discussed the situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
India has constantly stated that the relationship cannot go back to normal as long as the situation along the standoff continues and has repeatedly called for the restoration of the status quo and restoration along the LAC.
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 the troops close to the LAC, altering the ground status.