The corps commander level talks between India and China has not led to any agreement for disengagement from the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, but officials told News18 that both sides have agreed in principle to withdraw troops after a nine-month standoff.
The catch, however, is the lack of consensus on the withdrawal mechanism. While India is insisting on simultaneous withdrawal, the Chinese want India to first disengage from southern bank of the Pangong Tso Lake in eastern Ladakh.
“They insisted on discussion on South Bank alone. We want a discussion on all friction points,” an officer in the know told News18. It is the South bank of Pangong Tso where India had occupied heights in the last week of August, taking China by surprise and foiling the plans of the PLA.
The 9th round of talks between GoC, Lt General PGK Menon-led Indian delegation and the Chinese delegation led by Major General Liu Lin, commander of the South Xinjiang Military Region, lasted for over 15 hours at Moldo.
An official statement by the defence ministry stated that the two sides had a "candid and in-depth exchange of views on disengagement" and they "agreed to push for an early disengagement of the frontline troops".
"They also agreed to follow the important consensus of their state leaders, maintain the good momentum of dialogue and negotiation, and hold the 10th round of the Corps Commander Level Meeting at an early date to jointly advance de-escalation. The two sides agreed to continue their effective efforts in ensuring the restraint of the frontline troops, stabilize and control the situation along the LAC in the Western Sector of the China-India border, and jointly maintain peace and tranquility," the statement read.
One of the officers aware of the deliberations described the talks as "good and effective," but qualified it by saying that whatever the Chinese side promised is subject to "political and diplomatic clearance from Beijing."
In the 8th round of talks too, China had assured withdrawal of troops from Pangong Tso. Though close to 10,000 men were withdrawn subsequently, Indian officials feel it was more to do with weather conditions than a change in Beijing’s stance towards the border standoff.
"Most of the withdrawal was from rear areas. The temperatures are now in the region of -40 degree Celsius, so that seems to be the real factor,” an official told News18.
While China wants to focus solely on southern bank of Pangong Tso, the Indian side has called for a complete restoration of pre-April 2020 status quo ante. If Delhi and Beijing agree, then a phase-wise troop withdrawal from Pangong heights where both sides continue eye ball-to-eye ball deployment, can take place.
Officials said that only once the troops are withdrawn can the modalities of patrolling be worked out. China since April 2020 has not allowed the Indian troops to patrol up to finger 8.
The corps commander level talks happened in the backdrop of fresh clashes in Naku La in Sikkim, but officials told News18 that the issue didn't come up for discussion at Moldo.
"Major General Liu Lin is the commander of Xinjiang, the Sikkim unit would come under the Tibet commander so maybe that is why the issue didn't come up. There is also a possibility that Indian side didn't take up this matter because local commanders in Sikkim resolved the issue, "the officer said.