By Amit Agnihotri
New Delhi: Diplomats from India and China will hold a virtual bilateral meeting on the border question tomorrow to thrash out details of the current disengagement between their militaries following the over 75 days of face-off in Ladakh. Ahead of this meeting, India told China in strong words that the current border impasse may put a strain on the bilateral ties between the two Asian giants.
The Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India and China Border Affairs (MWCC) will meet in a virtual format tomorrow, its 17th till date, amidst concerns that there has been a delay in the implementation of the mutually agreed disengagement plan on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between the two militaries.
The diplomatic talks are happening even as the Chinese troopers have not cleared the Finger 4 ridge and returned to their side of the LAC beyond Finger 8 towards the eastern direction at Pongong Tso, a boomerang-shaped lake of which one-third is in Indian control and two-thirds are in Chinese control. Fingers are the hilly spurs that spread out into the lake like fingers on a palm of a hand. The Chinese are also not budging at the Depsang Plains, where they have amassed troops of three divisions numbering 30,000.
“Respecting and abiding by the LAC is the basis of the bilateral relationship. We expect the Chinese side will sincerely work with us towards complete disengagement and full restoration of peace in the border areas,” India’s Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said.
The border conflict started in May after the Chinese People’s Liberation Army violated the LAC and attempts by the Indian forces to counter this aggression led to the June 15 deadly clashes in the Galwan Valley in which 20 Indian soldiers lost their lives and over 40 PLA troops were casualty though the Chinese have been mum on the issue. Since then, relations between India and China are on a downward spiral.
At present, troops from both sides are facing each other in a confrontation that has worried the world powers, including the United States, which have openly criticised the Chinese aggression. The entire 14 Corps, headquartered in Leh and responsible for the defence of Ladakh along the LAC and the Kargil sector along the Line of Control with Pakistan, is geared up to face the Chinese challenge, including by mobilising battle tanks, artillery and air defence guns.
The Indian Air Force has moved its front line fighter jets including the Sukhoi Su-30MKI, MiG-29s, Apache gunships and other surveillance and cargo planes and helicopters in the task of defending Indian territory in case of a Chinese misadventure in Ladakh. The Indian Navy, on the other hand, is conducting cooperative maritime exercises with the United States Navy‘s warships in the Andaman Sea close to the Straits of Malacca to show intent of working along with its friends to blockade Chinese warships in the Indian Ocean region.
Peace was brokered between the two countries when the two Special Representatives on the boundary question — India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi — spoke over the phone on July 5 to work out a peace plan.
The mutually agreed disengagement, after four rounds of talks between the corps commanders of the Indian and Chinese military in June and July, has been on since July 6 but appears to have slowed down recently.
On July 10, India and China held the 16th virtual meeting of the WMCC where the two sides reviewed the process of disengagement. This was the second round of talks under this format since the India-China stand-off started. During that meeting, both sides agreed to ensure complete disengagement and full restoration of peace and tranquillity in the border areas.
Later, on July 14, the meeting of senior army commanders from both sides further reviewed the process in a marathon consultation extending over 15 hours after which India said it would verify the Chinese claims of the PLA troops going back from the Indian side of the LAC.
Amid concerns over the Chinese stubbornness in living up to its promise, officials expressed confidence in the process of talks. “Both sides are engaged through diplomatic and military channels to implement the disengagement expeditiously,” said Srivastava.
However, India expressed its displeasure over the delay in disengagement from the Chinese side and reminded the Asian giant that a large number of troop deployment along the LAC in the first place was against the various peace pacts that existed between the two countries since 1993.
Noting India was committed to respect the LAC, Srivastava sent out the message to China clearly. “We will not accept any unilateral changes in the LAC,” he said.
The Chinese, who had earlier claimed the entire Galwan Valley and had blamed India for the June 15 clashes, had softened their stand after India banned 59 Chinese apps over charges of data theft and concerns related to national security.