Indian and Chinese army delegations, led by corps commanders, will hold a meeting at Chushul in Ladakh on Tuesday in their third attempt to make some headway in implementing a daunting disengagement plan aimed at gradually reducing tensions aggravated by a significant military build-up on both sides of the contested Line of Actual Control (LAC), people familiar with developments said on Monday, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The two delegations, led by an Indian lieutenant general and his Chinese counterpart, last met on June 22 — exactly a week after the brutal Galwan Valley clash — and hammered out a consensus on disengaging from friction points along the disputed border.
The “mutual consensus to disengage” from all “friction areas” reached a week ago at the meeting between Lieutenant General Harinder Singh, commander of the Leh-based 14 Corps, and Major General Liu Lin, commander of the South Xinjiang military region, has not resulted in any form of disengagement or thinning of the military build-up by rival forces in the region, said one of persons cited above.
In what was seen as a rare meeting, the two senior officers first met on June 6 to reduce border tensions. The limited military disengagement that began in some friction areas after the first meeting was derailed after the bloodshed in Galwan Valley on June 15.
On Tuesday, the Indian side is expected to reiterate its demand for the pullback of Chinese troops from the friction points and seek the restoration of status quo ante (early April) in key areas including Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley and the strategic Depsang plains, said a second person.
Experts were not optimistic about what the latest meeting could potentially achieve, especially against the backdrop of continuing Chinese military buildup observed on the ground and captured by satellite imagery.
“The purpose of these meetings is to initiate disengagement on the ground at the military level before de-escalation can happen at the strategic level through diplomatic channels. The Chinese are playing hardball and one can’t exactly predict the outcome of these meetings between senior commanders,” said Lieutenant General BS Jaswal (retd), a former Northern Army commander.
The June 30 meeting is expected to begin at 10.30 am at Chushul on the Indian side of the LAC, said the second person. The previous two meetings were held at Moldo on the Chinese side of the LAC.
China has not halted — and instead ramped up — its military activity in Galwan Valley, Depsang Plains and the Finger Area near Pangong Tso after the senior officers met on June 22, he added.
Both India and China have significantly reinforced their deployments with thousands of soldiers, fighter jets, helicopters, tanks, heavy artillery, missiles and air defence systems in the region that has garnered extensive global attention in recent weeks, particularly after the Galwan skirmish that left 20 Indian and an unconfirmed number of Chinese soldiers dead.
India is especially concerned about the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) holding positions in the Finger Area of Pangong Tso where the PLA has set up permanent bunkers, pillboxes, tented camps and observation posts in areas New Delhi considers its territory, said a third person.
The situation is equally critical from the Indian standpoint in the Depsang sector as the PLA has mobilised troops, weapons and other military equipment in sensitive areas, with its forward presence disrupting the army’s patrolling patterns there, he added.
The Depsang plains lie south of Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) in a strategic area near the Karakoram pass that the military calls Sub-Sector North and any military moves here by the Chinese forces could threaten a key stretch of the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi road, experts said.
The Chinese buildup in other areas including Galwan Valley and the Gogra Post-Hot Springs sector hasn’t thinned either. Satellite imagery dated June 22, released by US firm Maxar Technologies, shows not only is the PLA holding ground in Galwan Valley but has also shored up its military positions in the area, as reported by Hindustan Times on June 25.
The PLA’s armoured vehicles and artillery units remain deployed in Chinese areas facing the Gogra Post-Hot Springs area along the contested border. The Indian military is keeping a strict vigil along the LAC and has raised its guard to respond to any eventuality, the third official cited above said.