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No headway reported after 18th Sino-India Ladakh-border army talks

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(TibetanReview.net, Apr25’23) – No breakthrough has been reported in the 18th corps commander-level talks held Apr 23 between Indian and Chinese commanders for defusing the three-year-long military confrontation and the ensuing continuing stand-off in eastern Ladakh. The two sides have agreed to continue dialogue and maintain “security and stability” along the frontier. They have also agreed to stay in close touch and work out a mutually acceptable solution to the “remaining issues” in eastern Ladakh at the earliest, reported the indianexpress.com Apr 27.

It is widely perceived that China is not interested to resolve the issue as it does not want to withdraw from newly occupied Indian territory and therefore talks about the need for the two sides to normalize overall ties without being bogged down by the border dispute. India has rejected this contention and said normalizing the border situation is the key to restoring overall bilateral ties.

The talks took place ahead of a bilateral meeting between India’s defence minister Rajnath Singh and his Chinese counterpart General Li Shangfu in New Delhi on Apr 27, a day before the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) conclave.

The meeting will see if the trust deficit between the two sides can be somewhat bridged and heightened tensions along the entire 3,488-km Line of Actual Control (LAC) from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh reduced, said the timesofindia.com Apr 25.

At the Apr 23 meeting, which took place in Chinese occupied Tibet side of the Chushul-Moldo border – after the last one on Dec 20 – the two sides have exchanged “proposals and counter-proposals”.

India was stated to have pushed for troop disengagement at the strategically-located Depsang Bulge area and the Charding Ninglung Nallah (CNN) track junction at Demchok as the first step towards eventual de-escalation and de-induction of the over 50,000 troops each side had forward deployed with heavy weapon systems in eastern Ladakh.

“But no mutually-acceptable solution could be reached. The overall bilateral relations will not improve till China restores the status quo it disrupted on the LAC in Apr-May 2020,” the report quoted a top Indian source as saying, dismissing China’s contention that the border row was now “shifting from a standoff to normalized management”.

The report noted that the persisting stalemate was reflected in the fact there was no joint statement, as has usually been the norm during previous rounds.

India’s External affairs ministry, in a brief anodyne statement on Apr 24, only said the two sides had “a frank and in-depth discussion on the resolution of the relevant issues along the LAC in the western sector so as to restore peace and tranquillity in the border areas, which will enable progress in bilateral relations”.

“In the interim, the two sides agreed to maintain the security and stability on the ground in the western sector. They agreed to stay in close contact and maintain dialogue through military and diplomatic channels and work out a mutually acceptable resolution of the remaining issues at the earliest,” the MEA statement said.

The statement also said the “exchange of views” was conducted “in an open and candid manner” in line with the “guidance” provided by the state leaders and the meeting between the two foreign ministers, S Jaishankar and Qin Gang, in early-March this year.

India’s External Affair Minister Jaishankar had at that time described the state of bilateral relationship as “abnormal”. A few days later, he went on to say that the situation on the LAC remained “very fragile” as there were points where Indian and Chinese troop deployments were “quite dangerous” in terms of military assessment.

The report noted that the current assessment was that while the military commanders could continue to talk in order to maintain peace on the ground, especially after the violent skirmishes in the Galwan Valley in Jun 2020 saw casualties on both sides for the first time in 45 years, the overall de-escalation will require top-level political intervention.

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