Senior military commanders from India and China on Saturday met in the Daulat Beg Oldie sector and held talks on reducing tensions along the contested Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh, with focus on thinning the buildup of troops and weaponry in Depsang plains where the forward deployment of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army has disrupted the Indian Army’s patrolling patterns, people familiar with the developments said.
Heightened concerns about Depsang come from an earlier intrusion in this sector in 2013, when the PLA set up positions 19 km into the Indian side of the LAC and triggered a face-off that took three weeks to resolve.
The PLA’s forward deployments in Depsang have hindered the access of Indian soldiers to several patrolling routes including the ones leading to Patrolling Points (PP) 10, 11, 11A 12 and 13, said one of the officials cited above. The military buildup in this sector includes deployment of tanks and artillery by the two armies, said a second official.
The Depsang plains lie south of DBO in a strategic area that the military calls Sub-Sector North (SSN). DBO is the country’s northernmost outpost where India operates an advanced landing ground to support its forward military deployments.
“Depsang is more of a pressure point as the PLA’s reported deployment in forward areas has disrupted the Indian Army’s patrolling pattern. It has become more time consuming for the army to dominate the LAC. But as long as talks are on there is hope for a mutually-acceptable solution to the dispute,” said Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (retd), a former director general of military operations.
The latest round of military talks between division commander-ranked officers came days after their bosses (the corps commanders) met on August 2 to discuss the next stage of disengagement at a time when negotiations have hit a roadblock due to differences between the two sides in the Finger Area and the PLA’s reluctance to vacate positions held by it in what New Delhi claims as Indian territory.
The outcome of Saturday’s talks wasn’t immediately known as there was no official word from the army.
The division commander-ranked officers have met a few times after the border row erupted in early May, but this was their first meeting after the corps commanders from the two sides began discussions on disengagement and de-escalation on June 6. The latter have met five times so far.
The Finger Area—a set of eight cliffs jutting out of the Sirijap range overlooking the Pangong Lake—has emerged as the hardest part of the disengagement process with little hope of immediate resolution.
The August 2 military negotiations came three days after Chinese ambassador Sun Weidong said his country’s traditional boundary line on the northern bank of the Pangong Lake was in accordance with the LAC and there was no case of Beijing expanding its territorial claim.
The ambassador’s contention was a clear indication of the Chinese hard line on its claims in the Finger Area, the officials said.