India and China on Friday agreed to hold another round of talks between senior military commanders to take forward the slow-moving process of disengagement on the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
This was agreed to at the 20th meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC) held via video link on Friday.
The WMCC has ordinarily been convened twice a year since the mechanism was launched in 2012 with the aim of ensuring peace on the borders, but has now met six times since June this year, since the unprecedented crisis in Ladakh erupted in early May. This followed multiple transgressions by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and a clash in Galwan Valley mid-June that claimed the lives of 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers.
At Friday’s talks, led by Naveen Srivastava, Joint Secretary (East Asia) in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), and Hong Liang, Director-General of the Department of Boundary and Oceanic Affairs of China's Foreign Ministry, both sides “reviewed the developments along the LAC”, the MEA said in a statement, and "agreed that based on the guidance provided by senior leaders and the agreements reached between the two Foreign Ministers and Special Representatives, they would continue to work towards ensuring complete disengagement in all friction points along the LAC in the Western Sector at the earliest.”
They also agreed to hold the ninth round of Corps Commander-level talks “at an early date” so that "both sides can work towards early and complete disengagement of troops along the LAC in accordance with the existing bilateral agreements and protocols, and fully restore peace and tranquility,” the statement said.
Focus on disengagement
A statement from China’s Foreign Ministry said both sides agreed to "focus on the disengagement of front-line troops and take concrete measures to deal with the issues on the ground to further deescalate the border situation” and to hold the ninth round of commander-level talks "as soon as possible to properly resolve remaining issues on the ground and jointly maintain peace and tranquility in the border area.”
At the last round of talks between Corps Commanders on November 6 , both sides continued discussing modalities to finalise a plan for phased disengagement.
One of the sticking points is China’s insistence on India first withdrawing from the strategic heights it occupied in late August south of Pangong Lake in response to China’s transgressions.
Tensions have remained high south of the lake, where shots were also fired in warning marking the first such instance of firing since 1975.
Officials told The Hindu, following the last round, that proposals were under discussion and would be taken up at the ninth round, and “once agreed upon it will be done in multiple phases with on the ground verification after each step.”
North of the lake, China has moved troops up to Finger 4 since May and has prevented India from reaching Finger 8, up to where India has patrolled previously.
Under the first phase of disengagement, both sides had moved back in Galwan Valley and in the Gogra-Hot Springs area. The situation at Pangong Lake remains unresolved, as also in the Depsang plains in the far north where India has been prevented from reaching patrolling points in the area.