Military commanders of India and China on Saturday discussed further disengagement at other friction points in eastern Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in a meeting that lasted for nearly 16 hours.
India on Saturday asked China for faster disengagement at Gogra, Hot Springs and Demchok areas, while asserting the need for Chinese soldiers to stop blocking Indian patrols in Depsang Plains to de-escalate the overall tensions in eastern Ladakh. There was no official word on the outcome of the tenth round of corps commander-level talks, led by 14 corps commander Lt-General P G K Menon and South Xinjiang Military District chief Major General Liu Lin, on the Chinese side of the Chushul-Moldo border meeting point on Saturday.
The dialogue, which included additional secretary (East Asia) Naveen Srivastava from the external affair ministry in the Indian delegation, began at 10am and went on till 2am.
Sources, however, said there were “no differences as such” between India and China in “completing” the stalled disengagement at patrolling points (PPs) 15 and 17A in the Hot Springs-Gogra-Kongka La area.
“There are only a handful of troops from both sides in the forward locations there, and they too are not in close proximity to each other. After disengagement on both sides of Pangong Tso, which was far more tough, it should happen faster at PPs 15 and 17A,” said a source.
Similarly, the “friction” at the Charding Ninglung Nallah (CNN) track junction in the Demchok sector, which arose after the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) pitched some tents while also denying grazing rights to Indian villagers there, should be relatively easier to resolve, said sources.
The major trouble-spot remains the strategically-located Depsang Plains or `Bulge’ area, the table-top plateau located at 16,000-feet, which has been “a source of constant friction” since at least 2013.
While the region provides India access to the Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) airstrip and the critical Karakoram Pass in the north, it is also close to China’s Western Highway G-219, which connects the Tibetan Autonomous Region to Xinjiang.
After the face-offs erupted in Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley and Gogra-Hot Springs areas in May last year, both sides had also amassed additional infantry battalions as well as mechanized forces in the shape of tanks and infantry combat vehicles in their “depth areas” of the Depsang region.
During the ninth round of talks, it was decided that the Chinese PLA will move its forces to the east of Finger 8 on the north bank while the Indian troops will move to its base near Finger 3, defence minister Rajnath Singh had told Parliament earlier this month, adding that the two sides have also agreed to temporarily suspend their regular patrolling activities on the north bank of Pangong Lake.
The Indian claim line extends to Finger 8, while the Chinese claim is up to Finger 4.
The India-China border standoff began last May and saw both sides deploy 50,000 troops each in the Ladakh theatre along with advanced weaponry. PLA’s deployments in Depsang have hindered access of Indian soldiers to Patrolling Points (PP) 10, 11, 11-A, 12 and 13, as previously reported by Hindustan Times. The Indian Army’s patrolling activity has also been affected in Hot Springs and Gogra, where rival troops are forward deployed and where skeletal disengagement took place last year.
Both India and China have vastly overlapping claims in the Depsang area, with the latter claiming as much as 972 square km of territory. The last major troop face-off at Depsang had taken place in April-May 2013, when the PLA had intruded 19-km across the LAC to camp at the Raki Nalla area. Though the then face-off was resolved after 21 days, the tensions have prevailed in the region ever since.
Earlier this week, for the first time the Chinese army admitted that four of its soldiers were killed and an officer was injured in the clash between the troops of both sides at Galwan Valley on June 15, 2020.