Talks to avoid second winter of India-China border conflict end in acrimony and stalemate

·4-min read
A signboard is seen from the Indian side of the Indo-China border at Bumla in Arunachal Pradesh (REUTERS)
A signboard is seen from the Indian side of the Indo-China border at Bumla in Arunachal Pradesh (REUTERS)

The latest round of talks between India and China have ended in acrimony and stalemate after the two Asian neighbours failed to reach a breakthrough to avoid a repeat of potential deadly high-altitude clashes in the Himalayas.

New Delhi and Beijing issued accusatory press statements after senior military commander talks on Sunday, aimed at diffusing a 17-month long stand-off along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), a loosely demarcated border between India and China.

China blamed India for persisting in its “unreasonable and unrealistic demands” and asked India to cherish the “hard-won situation in China-India border areas.”

And India accused China of attempting to “alter the status quo” of the region and acknowledged that the talks did not result in a resolution.

The two Asia rivals were meeting for the 13th time since June last year and held nine hours of marathon talks at the Moldo-Chushul border point on the Chinese side to try and defuse the standoff, which began in May 2020.

Tensions escalated to an unprecedented level last year when soldiers of the Indian Armed Forces and People’s Liberation Army got involved in series of brutal hand-to-hand combats resulting in casualties on both sides.

Issuing a statement on Sunday night, senior colonel Long Shaohua, spokesperson of Western Theater Command of the PLA, said: “Instead of misjudging the situation, the Indian side should cherish the hard-won situation in China-India border areas.”

“The Chinese side made great efforts to promote the easing and cooling of the border situation and fully demonstrated China’s sincerity of maintaining overall interests of bilateral military relations. However, the Indian side still persisted in its unreasonable and unrealistic demands, which added difficulties to the negotiations,” he added.

Hours later on Monday, Indian Ministry of External Affairs also issued a statement, saying Beijing was "not agreeable" to New Delhi’s "constructive suggestions" and "could not provide any forward-looking proposals.”

“The Indian side pointed out that the situation along the LAC had been caused by unilateral attempts of Chinese side to alter the status quo and in violation of the bilateral agreements,” the ministry said in a release.

“It was therefore necessary that the Chinese side take appropriate steps in the remaining areas so as to restore peace and tranquillity along the LAC in the Western Sector,” it said.

India added that the two sides have “agreed to maintain communications” while China urged New Delhi to “abide by the relevant agreements.”

The setback in months-long talks comes after Indian army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane raised concerns over the “large-scale build-up” by PLA troops who he said were “there to stay.”

“But if they’re there to stay, we’re there to stay too. And the build-up on our side, and the developments on our side, is as good as what PLA has done,” he added.

The two sides have successfully disengaged from friction points: north and south banks of Pangong Tso, Patrol Point 14 in Galwan Valley and Petrol Point 17A at the Gogra Post. But disengagement remains stalled in Hot Springs, Demchok and Depsang and PP15.

India and China have deployed tens of thousands of soldiers backed by artillery, tanks and fighter jets along the high-altitude LAC where temperatures in the forward areas of Ladakh drop to minus 30C around January.

While the troops on both sides used to retreat to the lower areas for summer holding positions before the winters, the stalemate in the talks means troops of both countries would have to spend another winter in the harsh climate.

In two recent incidents, Indian and Chinese soldiers clashed in the Barahoti sector of Uttarakhand and Tawang sector in Arunachal Pradesh, according to media reports.

Around 200 PLA soldiers came face-to-face with Indian army soldiers last week near Yangtse in the Tawang Sector in eastern Arunachal Pradesh state, News18 reported citing government sources.

And in Uttarakhand, about 100 Chinese soldiers transgressed into LAC on 30 August and returned from the area after spending a few hours there.

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