After a gap of nearly four months, a new round of military commander-level talks aimed at resolving the confrontation in the western section of the Sino-Indian border was held on July 31 at the Moldo meeting point on the Chinese side of the actual border control line between the two countries. Indian website News18 said the talks, which took place two weeks after the meeting between the Chinese and Indian Foreign Ministers in Dushanbe, showed positive progress and hopes of reaching an understanding on disengagement in the Hot Springs and Gogra areas. The two sides also discussed “specific details of de-escalation in other points of friction, including moving forward with the disengagement process and jointly maintaining stability in the border region. No official statement has been released yet.
Indian sources familiar with the situation said the talks, which lasted about nine hours, were the shortest military commander-level talks to date. The source said there were “indications that the two sides appear to have made a breakthrough on the disengagement of the Hot Springs and Gogra areas, which were previously deadlocked”. He stressed, however, that “neither side will make a conclusive statement until the progress of the talks is reported to the respective military and political decision makers, but a joint statement may be issued in the next day or two”. Another Indian source told the Times of India that the bottom line for the Indian side remains to restore status quo ante in the standoff area as of the end of April 2020.
According to the Times of India, during the 11th round of talks in April, Indian representatives had called for disengagement in the Hot Springs and Gogra areas and the restoration of Indian forces’ “unimpeded patrolling rights” in the Depsang area. But progress has been limited. The Indian side said the two sides could achieve a de-escalation of force in “eastern Ladakh” after completing the disengagement steps.
The Huan Qiu Shi Bao reporter observed that the interaction between Indian officials and the media before the talks is quite interesting. The Business Standard, an Indian financial media that has always been known for its professional rigor, quoted Indian government sources as disclosing on July 14 that the Chinese army, after a brief winter calm, had again “crossed the actual border control line” in several locations in the “eastern region of Ladakh. “It is not known if any casualties were caused by the clashes with Indian troops which occurred at least once, near the site of last year’s incident in the Galwan Valley.
On the day of the news release, the Indian Army responded with “rare” alacrity, calling the report published by an English-language media outlet false and “strongly refuted” it. The Indian Army said the report falsely claimed that India and China had clashed in the Galwan Valley near the Line of Actual Control (LoC) and that the journalist who wrote the report had “malicious intent”. The Indian Army also stressed that since the implementation of the disengagement agreement between the two sides on both sides of Lake Pangong in February this year, “neither side has attempted to occupy the area under disengagement” and that “both sides are continuing to resolve the border issue through negotiations and are patrolling regularly in their respective areas (on their side) “.
Although some Indian media have since been keen to speculate on the construction of permanent structures in the border area on its side by China as being “in violation of the agreement”, “anonymous officials” from the Indian Home Ministry and Defense Ministry have often refuted this afterwards. The Hindu reported on July 25 that an unnamed senior Indian defense ministry official said the situation in the India-China border standoff was stable and that no side was trying to regain positions on the high ground. Another unnamed official said that “both sides are also considering holding divisional-level talks after this round of army commander-level talks”. It is reported that since the border standoff between the two countries, in addition to the army military commander-level talks, the two sides have held 10 rounds of divisional commander-level talks, 55 rounds of regiment commander-level talks and exchanged conversation on military hotlines 1,450 times.
A number of Indian government officials and think tank scholars told the Huan Qiu Shi Bao that they do not think tensions along the India-China border will escalate further. One of the senior officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said neither India’s domestic political environment nor the regional and international environment supports another outbreak of conflict between the two sides, and that “there is no doubt that such behavior is not in the interest of either side”. “India has always sought to resolve differences with the Chinese side through peaceful dialogue. This is completely different from territorial disputes between India and Pakistan. The line of actual control on the border between India and China will not become like the India-Pakistan ceasefire line”. He acknowledged, however, that tensions along the India-China border are at their highest level in the past 40 years or so, and that political mutual trust has been severely eroded. “Follow on rebuilding of mutual trust will be more difficult than the current negotiations, and will likely require a new agreement or upgrading of existing agreements once the two sides complete their de-escalation of forces”.