Eastern Ladakh standoff: India, China to hold Lt General-level talks on Saturday

New Delhi, Jun 5 (PTI) Indian and Chinese armies will hold a Lieutenant General-level dialogue on Saturday in their first major attempt to resolve the month-long bitter border standoff in eastern Ladakh, a day after the two countries vowed not to allow 'differences' become disputes and agreed to resolve them through talks.

The two countries on Friday held diplomatic talks with an aim to resolve the standoff, and agreed to handle the issue through peaceful discussions while respecting each other's sensitivities, concerns and aspirations.

In the talks, the two sides agreed to settle differences in accordance with guidance provided by leadership of two countries, in a reference to decisions taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping at an informal summit in Chinese city of Wuhan in 2018.

In the military talks, the Indian delegation will press for restoration of status quo ante in Galwan Valley, Pangong Tso and Gogra in eastern Ladakh, oppose huge build up of Chinese troops in the region and ask China not to resist development of infrastructure by India on its side of the de-facto border, government sources said.

The Indian delegation will be led by Lt General Harinder Singh, the general officer commanding of Leh-based 14 Corps, while the Chinese side will be headed by the Commander of the Tibet Military District, government sources said.

The talks are slated to start at around 8 AM at the Border Personnel Meeting Point in Maldo on the Chinese side in Eastern Ladakh.

The meeting is taking place after 12 rounds of talks between local commanders of the two armies and three rounds of discussions at the level of major general-rank officials could not produce any tangible outcome, the sources said. 'The one point agenda for us at the talks will be to bring back peace and tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). We will suggest specific measures to achieve it which will include going back to the pre-May 5 situation,' a top military official told PTI on condition of anonymity.

The standoff began on May 5 following violent clashes between the two sides at Pangong Tso. It is learnt that Chief of Army Staff Gen MM Naravane carried out a comprehensive review of the situation in eastern Ladakh with top military officials ahead of the talks.

When asked about the Lt General-level dialogue, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman told a media briefing in Beijing: 'We have full-fledged border-related mechanisms and we maintain close communications though military and diplomatic channels.' The sources said India was not expecting any 'concrete outcome' from the meeting, but considers it important as the high-level military dialogue could pave the way for a negotiated settlement of the tense standoff.

The Indian side is expected to press for restoration of the status quo ante in at least Pangong Tso and Galwan Valley and seek removal of temporary camps erected by China after the violent face-off between the two sides on May 5, they said.

The Indian delegation will also insist on implementation of the strategic guidelines issued by the two militaries in line with decisions taken by Modi and Xi in Wuhan, the sources said.

It is learnt that two sides are also engaged in diplomatic talks to find a solution to the face-off which is turning out to be the most serious military confrontation after the Doklam episode of 2017. Modi and Xi held their informal summit in Wuhan months after the Doklam standoff.

After the standoff began in early last month, Indian military leadership decided that Indian troops will adopt a firm approach in dealing with the aggressive posturing by the Chinese troops in all disputed areas of Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley, Demchok and Daulat Beg Oldie.

The Chinese army is learnt to have deployed around 2,500 troops in Pangong Tso and Galwan Valley besides gradually enhancing temporary infrastructure and weaponry.

The sources said satellite images have captured significant ramping up of defence infrastructure by China on its side of the LAC, the de-facto border, including by upgrading a military airbase around 180 km from the Pangong Tso area.

The Chinese Army has been gradually ramping up its strategic reserves in its rear bases near the the LAC by rushing in artillery guns, infantry combat vehicles and heavy military equipment, the sources said.

China has also enhanced its presence in certain areas along the Line of Actual Control in Northern Sikkim and Uttarakhand following which India has also been its presence by sending additional troops, they said.

Meanwhile, sources said the intelligence agencies have submitted a detailed to the government on the overall situation in eastern Ladakh and how Chinese military has increasingly strengthened its positions in Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley, Daulat Beg Oldie and Demchok.

The trigger for the face-off was China's stiff opposition to India laying a key road in the Finger area around the Pangong Tso Lake besides construction of another road connecting the Darbuk-Shayok-Daulat Beg Oldie road in Galwan Valley.

The road in the Finger area in Pangong Tso is considered crucial for India to carry out patrol. India has already decided not to stall any border infrastructure projects in eastern Ladakh in view of Chinese protests.

Government sources said military reinforcements including troops, vehicles and artillery guns were sent to eastern Ladakh by the Indian Army to shore up its presence in the areas where Chinese soldiers were resorting to aggressive posturing. The situation in eastern Ladakh deteriorated after around 250 Chinese and Indian soldiers were engaged in a violent face-off on May 5 and 6. The incident in Pangong Tso was followed by a similar incident in north Sikkim on May 9.

The troops of India and China were engaged in a 73-day stand-off in Doklam tri-junction in 2017 which even triggered fears of a war between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

The India-China border dispute covers the 3,488-km-long LAC. China claims Arunachal Pradesh as part of southern Tibet while India contests it. Both sides have been asserting that pending the final resolution of the boundary issue, it is necessary to maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas. PTI MPB ZMN