(Editor’s Note: Updated with Indian Army statement at paragraph 16 and a Ministry of External Affairs add-on statement at paragraph 23.)
New Delhi: India held a meeting of the China Study Group, a formal gathering of senior Indian government officials, last evening to consider the marathon 15-hour discussion at the fourth round of talks between India-China military commanders at Chushul that ended yesterday morning.
The China Study Group (CSG), headed by the National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, comprises the Indian government department Secretaries from Defence, External Affairs, Home, and the Cabinet Secretariat.
The CSG has been empowered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take a call on policy matters regarding China, particularly the diplomatic and military engagements that require brain-storming.
India’s Northern Army Commander with headquarters at Udhampur Lieutenant General Y. K. Joshi was also summoned to attend the CSG meeting along with the Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat and Indian Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane, government sources said.
Indian Army’s 14 ‘Fire and Fury’ Corps Commander Lt Gen Harinder Singh and China’s South Xinjiang Military District chief Major General Liu Lin held their marathon 15-hour meeting at Chushul on the Indian side that began July 14 at 11 am and ended July 15 (yesterday) around 2 am.
The two military leaders discussed the progress that had been achieved in the disengagement and de-escalation efforts that had been discussed previously on three occasions by the two sides since June 6, according to two senior Indian Army officers, who requested not to be named citing rules.
The discussion this time revolved around hard-bargaining that the two sides had been doing on the de-escalation and de-induction of troopers from the 1,500-km Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, particularly the pain point at Pongong Tso, a boomerang-shaped lake one-thirds of which is controlled by India and the rest two-thirds by China.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army soldiers have ventured into and occupied the Finger 4 ridge positions on the North banks of the lake, a location that China considered as its LAC. However, India’s LAC is perceived to be at Finger 8, which is further east of Finger 4 about 25 km away towards the Chinese side.
The differing perception of the LAC is the primary cause for conflict between India and China along the entire 4,050 km of the de facto borders from Ladakh to Uttarakhand to Sikkim to Arunachal Pradesh. As mentioned in earlier reports, Fingers on the Pongong Tso are mountain spurs on the North banks that extend like fingers on a palm right into the lake.
There was a feeling in the Indian Army that military diplomacy has done and achieved what it can after four rounds of talks – of achieving disengagement between the troopers of the two countries, ensured there was no further escalation, and also made sure there was no further violence between them.
“Military diplomacy has its own limitations. Now, diplomatic efforts at the end of the diplomats and senior government and political leadership should kick in,” one of the two army officers mentioned above said.
“Only such diplomatic and political intervention can go far to achieve enduring peace, as was envisaged in the meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (MWCC) held last week,” he said.
The two sides have been bargaining for a complete Chinese pull back of its soldiers from Finger 4 ridge, according to military sources. Also under discussion is the issue of removing all battle tanks, artillery weapons, air defence missile batteries and other war-fighting equipment that have been deployed closer to the LAC since the two sides began their military conflict in early May.
“We have insisted that only the pre-May force levels for defence should continue to be deployed and all soldiers should pull back to their status quo ante positions of April this year. That alone will mean a complete de-induction of troopers from the LAC and that’s the end state we intend to achieve,” the second officer mentioned above said.
At present, the two nations have deployed around 30,000 soldiers at the borders in combat ready mode though their soldiers, who fought a bloody clash on June 15 leading to deaths on both sides, have disengaged since June 26 and the de-escalation began on July 6.
Updated July 16 at 1 pm: Indian Army Statement on the Military Talks
India and China armies are committed to complete disengagement, an Indian Army said in a statement regarding the fourth round of military commanders talks held July 14-15. The statement came nearly 35 hours after the talks had ended.
India and China have been engaged in discussions through established military and diplomatic channels to address the prevailing situation along the LAC.
The Indian Army was waiting for the China Study Group that meet yesterday (July 15) evening to deliberate on the outcome of the fourth meeting between the Lieutenant General-ranked officers from the two sides before it put out the five-line statement.
“The two sides remain committed to the objective of complete disengagement. This process is intricate and requires constant verification. They are taking it forward through regular meetings at diplomatic and military level” Indian Army spokesman Colonel Aman Anand said in the statement.
The senior commanders reviewed the progress on implementation of the first phase of disengagement and discussed further steps to ensure complete disengagement, he said, regarding the meeting.
“The engagement was consistent with the consensus reached between the Special Representatives of India and China earlier, on 05 July, to discuss complete disengagement.”
Updated July 16 at 6 pm: Indian MEA add-on statement on the Diplomatic and Military Talks with China
“The process of disengagement along the LAC is complex and therefore, unsubstantiated and inaccurate reports need to be avoided.
“The disengagement process currently underway in the western sector is specifically aimed at addressing face-off situations and close-up deployments of troops along the LAC.
“It is based on an understanding between senior military commanders. Both sides have agreed at specific points to re-deploy towards their regular posts on their respective sides of the LAC.
“These are mutually agreed reciprocal actions to be taken by both sides. And as I have already conveyed, it is an ongoing process. This mutual re-deployment should not be misrepresented.
“There is absolutely no change with respect to India’s position on the Line of Actual Control. We are fully committed to observing and respecting the LAC. Any unilateral attempts to change the status quo along the LAC are not acceptable.”