India, China army commanders meet to defuse border tensions

Ashok Sharma
Associated Press

New Delhi  — Indian and Chinese army commanders have discussed steps to disengage troops from key friction areas along their disputed border to ease a 17-month standoff that has sometimes led to deadly clashes, an Indian army spokesman said.

The commanders met Sunday after a gap of two months at Moldo on the Chinese side in the Ladakh area, said Col. Sudhir Chamoli, the army spokesman. No details were immediately available.

A written statement Monday from a Chinese military spokesperson said “the Indian side sticks to unreasonable and unrealistic demands, adding difficulties to the negotiations."

Since February, both India and China have withdrawn troops from some face-off sites on the northern and southern banks of Pangong Tso, Gogra and Galwan Valley, but they continue to maintain extra troops as part of a multi-tier deployment.

Additional troop deployment has also taken place at Demchok and Depsang Plains, Indian media reports say.

In this Sept. 9, 2020, file photo, an Indian army convoy moves on the Srinagar- Ladakh highway at Gagangeer, northeast of Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir.

With the standoff continuing, the two sides are looking to continue troop deployment in the forward areas of Ladakh for a second consecutive winter in freezing temperatures.

The talks came amid frustration expressed by the Indian army chief at what he called the massive deployment of troops and weaponry by the Chinese side.

“Yes, it is a matter of concern that the large-scale buildup has occurred and continues to be in place, and to sustain that kind of a buildup, there has been an equal amount of infrastructure development on the Chinese side,” Gen. M.M. Naravane said on Saturday.

“So, it means that they (China) are there to stay. We are keeping a close watch on all these developments, but if they are there to stay, we are there to stay too,” he stated.

The Chinese statement from Col. Long Shaohua of the Western Theater Command said that “China’s determination to safeguard its sovereignty is unwavering, and China hopes India will not misjudge the situation.”

Temperatures in the forward areas in Ladakh drop to 30 below zero Celsius (22 below zero Fahrenheit) around January. The troops from both sides used to retreat to their traditional summer holding positions around this time, but continue to remain close to the disputed border since the start of faceoff in May last year.

Both countries have stationed tens of thousands of soldiers backed by artillery, tanks and fighter jets along the de facto border called the Line of Actual Control. Last year, 20 Indian troops were killed in a clash with Chinese soldiers involving clubs, stones and fists along the disputed border. China said it lost four soldiers.

The Line of Actual Control separates Chinese and Indian-held territories from Ladakh in the west to India’s eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims in its entirety. India and China fought a deadly war over the border in 1962.

Since the standoff began last year, the Chinese have been building build dozens of large weather-proof structures along the LAC in eastern Ladakh for their troops to stay in during the winter. New helipads, widening of airstrips, new barracks, new surface-to-air missile sites and radar locations have also been reported by Indian media.