India and China have agreed on five points to guide their approach to the situation on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), including the disengagement of troops and easing of tensions, even as New Delhi conveyed its strong concern at the massing of Chinese troops without any credible explanation.
The consensus was reached during talks between external affairs minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the margins of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meet in Moscow on Thursday evening. The meeting lasted two-and-half hours.
A joint statement issued early on Friday morning said the foreign ministers agreed “both sides should take guidance from the series of consensus of the leaders on developing India-China relations, including not allowing differences to become disputes”.
They further agreed “the current situation in the border areas is not in the interest of either side”, and “therefore…the border troops of both sides should continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions”.
They also agreed both sides “shall abide by all the existing agreements and protocols on China-India boundary affairs, maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas and avoid any action that could escalate matters”.
The two sides will continue communications through the Special Representatives mechanism, and meetings of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on border affairs will continue.
The ministers agreed that “as the situation eases, the two sides should expedite work to conclude new confidence-building measures to maintain and enhance peace and tranquillity in the border areas”.
People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that the Indian side had highlighted its strong concern at the massing of Chinese troops and equipment along the LAC without any credible explanation for the deployment.
“The presence of such large concentration of troops was not in accordance with the 1993 and 1996 agreements and created flashpoints along the LAC. The provocative behaviour of Chinese frontline troops at numerous incidents of friction along the LAC showed disregard for bilateral agreements and protocols,” said one of the people cited above.
“The immediate task is to ensure a comprehensive disengagement of troops in all friction areas. That is necessary to prevent any untoward incident in the future. The final disposition of troop deployment to their permanent posts and the phasing of the process are to be worked out by military commanders,” the person added.
The Indian side said it expected full adherence to the agreements on management of border areas and “would not countenance any attempt to change the status quo unilaterally”, the people said. It also pointed out Indian troops had scrupulously followed the agreements and protocols on the border areas.
Jaishankar, who was India’s longest serving envoy to Beijing and knows Wang well, made it clear India recognises that a solution to the boundary question requires time and effort, but it was equally clear that the maintenance of peace and tranquillity on the border areas is essential for the development of ties, the people said.
The recent incidents in eastern Ladakh had “inevitably impacted the development of the bilateral relationship”, and an “urgent resolution of the current situation was in the interest of both nations”, the external affairs minister was quoted as saying by the people.
Jaishankar also noted that since the resumption of ambassadorial-level relations in 1976 and holding of boundary talks since 1981, bilateral relations have developed on a “largely positive trajectory”. While there have been incidents from time to time, peace and tranquillity has largely prevailed in border areas, and India-China cooperation developed in a broad range of domains to give the relationship a more substantive character, he noted, according to the people.
A Chinese foreign ministry statement cited Wang as saying that “it is normal for China and India to have differences as two neighbouring major countries”, but it is important to “put these differences in a proper context vis-a-vis bilateral relations”.
The statement further said the Chinese side is willing to “support enhanced dialogue between the frontier troops on both sides to resolve specific issues”, and it will stay in touch through diplomatic and military channels and be committed to restoring peace and tranquillity.
Jaishankar and Wang met for the crucial talks in Moscow against the backdrop of a spike in tensions along the LAC after both countries amassed more troops in Ladakh sector.
The two leaders were in the same room twice earlier in the day – first for a meeting of foreign ministers of the SCO and then for a luncheon meeting of the Russia-India-China (RIC) grouping – before they began their bilateral talks a little after 8 pm Indian time.
Wang was quoted by the Chinese statement as also saying that bilateral relations have “once again come to a crossroads”, but as long as the two sides “keep moving the relationship in the right direction, there will be no difficulty or challenge that can’t be overcome”.
He outlined China’s “stern position” on the situation in the border areas, “emphasising that the imperative is to immediately stop provocations such as firing and other dangerous actions that violate the commitments made by the two sides”. Wang said it is also “important to move back all personnel and equipment that have trespassed” and the “frontier troops must quickly disengage so that the situation may de-escalate”.
However, New Delhi has rejected all assertions by Beijing that Indian troops had crossed the LAC and blamed the latest face-offs during August 29-30 and on September 7 on provocative military actions by Chinese forces.
There have been face-offs between the two sides on the south bank of Pangong Lake after the provocative Chinese movements to change the status quo during August 29-30. India also said that during the latest face-off on September 7, Chinese soldiers fired in the air after they were dissuaded from closing in on an Indian forward position – the first time guns were used on the LAC since 1975.
Since then, both sides have further strengthened their military presence by moving in additional troops, tanks and other weaponry. The Chinese side, however, has been rattled by India’s proactive move of positioning its troops on several strategic heights to prevent further land grabs on the south bank of Pangong Lake.
The Indian side has repeatedly said in recent weeks that it is committed to the resolution of the border standoff through peaceful negotiations, though it is also opposed to any unilateral efforts to alter the status quo along the LAC.