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India, China agree on 5-point action plan

After a two-and-a-half-hour meeting that went into the night in Moscow, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi said they agreed on a five-point course of action to disengage and reduce tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), where Indian and Chinese troops have been engaged in a four-and-a-half-month-long stand-off.

“The two Foreign Ministers agreed that the current situation in the border areas is not in the interests of either side. They agreed, therefore, that the border troops of both sides should continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions,” said a joint press statement issued after the first face-to-face meeting between the two Ministers since the stand-off began.

The five-point plan is: following the consensus between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping to “not allow differences to become disputes”, disengaging quickly to ease tensions, abiding by the existing India-China border protocols and avoiding escalatory action, continuing the dialogue between the Special Representatives, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Mr. Wang, as well as the other mechanisms and working towards new confidence-building measures (CBMs).

Both sides also issued separate notes detailing their positions, indicating that several differences still remain in their agreement of the situation at the LAC, which has seen violent clashes, deaths of soldiers and gunfire exchanges for the first time in 45 years.

“The immediate task is to ensure a comprehensive disengagement of troops in all the friction areas. That is necessary to prevent any untoward incident in the future. The final disposition of the troop deployment to their permanent posts and the phasing of the process is to be worked out by the military commanders,” government sources said. However, neither the joint statement, nor the respective notes issued specifically spoke of a return to the “status quo ante” or positions prior to the stand-off in April. Nor do they specifically call on China to retreat from positions it has aggressed on at Pangong Tso, Depsang and other parts of the LAC.

‘Purpose achieved’

A senior official told The Hindu that the purpose of the Foreign Ministers’ meeting was to agree on the “objectives and principles of disengagement” and that had been achieved. However, much would depend on the militaries following through on the ground, and completing the process “quickly”, returning from the near eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation at the LAC, to their normal posts, which are 25-30 km apart at many places.

The statement issued by China’s Foreign Ministry on Friday quoted Mr. Wang as saying the relationship was “at the crossroads”. “But as long as the two sides keep moving the relationship in the right direction, there will be no difficulty or challenge that can’t be overcome,” he noted.

His quoted remarks were in contrast to recent statements from China, including the one following the September 4 meeting between the Defence Ministers in Moscow. He did not blame India for the recent crisis, which has been a point of emphasis in several Chinese statements from the Foreign Ministry and the PLA in recent weeks.

Mr. Wang reportedly maintained “China’s stern position” on the situation in the border areas, “emphasising that the imperative is to immediately stop provocations such as firing and other dangerous actions that violate the commitments made by the two sides”, the Chinese note added.

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