Ladakh stand-off: Chinese refuse to budge ahead of crucial border meet

The PLA has not yet formally agreed to attend the military-to-military meeting that India is seeking to organise at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Chushul | Illustration by Ajay Mohanty
As the lieutenant general commanding the Indian Army corps in Ladakh prepares for a crucial meeting with the counterpart in China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), there is little from the Chinese side to encourage hopes of de-escalation.

The PLA has not yet formally agreed to attend the military-to-military meeting that India is seeking to organise at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Chushul, Ladakh, to work out a truce that would see the withdrawal of thousands of PLA soldiers that have occupied large chunks of Indian territory at the Pangong Lake north bank and the Galwan River valley over the preceding month. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh announced on Tuesday that a meeting was possible on Saturday. However, after the Indian army cancelled meetings before the crisis, citing Covid fears, the Chinese have been paying back in the same coin.

While discussing the agenda for the meeting, government sources say the Chinese side has flatly refused to discuss the incursion into the Galwan River Valley, where the PLA has entered 3-5 km into Indian territory and established defences that overlook and dominate India’s vital Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi road that links central and north Ladakh. The PLA’s occupation of large sections of the Galwan Valley in the first week of May is a troubling dimension of the standoff. The Galwan Valley has been one of the peaceful sectors along the LAC, where both sides have traditionally agreed on the border alignment. By occupying this, China is departing from settled practice and creating a new normal.

While the PLA seems more agreeable to discussing the Pangong Lake sector, it has refused to withdraw forces from their new positions on the north bank of the lake. Here, several thousand Chinese troops occupy the area between India’s claim line at Finger 8 and the new front line at Finger 4. A Chinese flag flutters at the Green Top area. This has effectively shifted the LAC 3-5 km to the west. Earlier, Indian border patrols used to visit Finger 8 to assert their claim up to that point. Now, large numbers of PLA troops who have occupied Finger 4 are stopping Indian patrols from going up to their traditional patrolling point at Finger 8.

There is also no evident willingness on the PLA side to withdraw from their occupation of what used to be the Indian army’s Patrolling Point 14 and 15, near the Galwan Nala. Here, over the last month, the PLA has built a motorable road running almost 3 km on the Indian side of the LAC. The PLA has also not withdrawn from the Naku La area, in Sikkim. However, since this is a settled international border, the army believes Chinese withdrawal in that sector is inevitable.

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