NEW DELHI: There was no breakthrough yet again in the marathon military talks between India and China on Friday, with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) digging in its heels on even completing the stalled troop disengagement process in eastern Ladakh as a step towards the proposed de-escalation along the frontier.
The sheer lack of any forward movement in the 11thround of the corps commander-level talks, which itself came 50 days after the last one, was also evident in the fact that India and China did not issue a joint statement this time unlike the previous rounds.
Sources said “no action plan could be finalized” for completing the partial troop disengagement at Gogra, Hot Springs and Demchok, let alone any progress on the far more intractable issue of blocking of Indian patrols in the strategically-located Depsang Plains, during the 13-hour military dialogue at Chushul on Friday.
“PLA did not agree to troop pullback from the friction sites at patrolling points (PPs) 15, 17 and 17A in the Hot Springs-Gogra-Kongka La area, where it is also maintaining considerable strength in the rear areas. De-escalation at Depsang is nowhere on the horizon,” said a source.
The Indian statement on Saturday noted that in the context of both sides agreeing on the need to resolve issues, “it was highlighted that completion of disengagement in other areas would pave the way for two sides to consider de-escalation of forces and ensure full restoration of peace and tranquility and enable progress in bilateral relations”.
The rival corps commanders, of course, will meet again after consulting their respective political-military hierarchies. “The two sides agreed on the need to resolve the outstanding issues in an expeditious manner in accordance with the existing agreements and protocols,” said the defence ministry statement.
The two delegations, led by 14 Corps commander Lt-General P G K Menon and South Xinjiang Military District chief Major General Liu Lin, also agreed to continue to “jointly maintain stability on the ground, avoid any new incidents and jointly maintain peace in the border areas”.
“The two sides agreed that it was important to take guidance from the consensus of their leaders, continue their communication and dialogue and work towards a mutually acceptable resolution of the remaining issues at the earliest,” it added.
The lack of progress in the talks is likely to reinforce major concerns that India should have used its major bargaining leverage of occupying the Kailash range heights to extract some concessions from China in Depsang Plains, instead of squandering it for just disengagement in the “Finger” area on the north bank of Pangong Tso in February.
But the government contention is that the “pressing and immediate priority” then was to ensure that the eyeball-to-eyeball troop confrontation on both sides of Pangong Tso, with tanks and howitzers also facing each other, did not lead to any inadvertent vertical escalation.
The “Finger” area intrusion was also seen as the most serious of Chinese transgressions. Moreover, the Depsang issue is a lingering problem since 2013, which has to be tackled separately, it said.
Just a fortnight ago, Army chief General M M Naravanehad himself warned that the “threat has only abated” with the successful troop disengagement on both sides of Pangong Tso, but “not gone away altogether” since the PLA was still maintaining its considerable troop strength in the “rear areas” as before. “De-escalation will take place only when these elements go back to their garrisons,” he had said.