NEW DELHI: Talks between senior military commanders of India and China were underway on Tuesday to discuss a second, more complex phase of disengagement and de-escalation along their border, where tensions have spiked following the two countries amassing of tens of thousands of troops and a violent clash that killed soldiers of both sides last month.
The meeting between the Indian Army’s 14 Corps Commander Lieutenant General Harinder Singh and his Chinese counterpart Major General Lin Liu, commander of the South Xinjiang Military District, began a little past 11:30 am, the scheduled time to begin the discussions, a person in the know of the matter said.
The two officers have met thrice before — 6 June, 22 June and 30 June. The talks this time, like on 30 June, was taking place at Chushul, on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
According to analysts, Tuesday’s talks were expected to cover the most complex and challenging issues given that the two commanders were to negotiate a pullback of troops from the Pangong Tso Lake region as well as the Depsang Plains. In both areas, Chinese troops have made deep ingresses into what is regarded by India as its territory.
The two commanders were also expected to focus on a pullback of troops and equipment — air defence radars, tanks, artillery units and air support — from areas immediately adjacent to the LAC. China had mobilized troops and heavy weaponry at the LAC in late April-early May at the start of tensions with India. On its part, India too had quickly sent its troops to match the Chinese deployment.
Last week, troops of both countries pulled back from three friction points—PP (patrolling point) 14, 15 and 17A, creating a buffer zone of 3-4 km depth. This was done to ensure that troops who are separated at some points along the LAC by only 600 metres or less do not engage with each other. It came after a violent clash between the two sides on 15 June that led to the death of 20 Indian Army personnel and an unknown number of Chinese troops . The casualties were the first in 45 years. Ties between the two countries have deteriorated rapidly due to the tensions.
The talks with India came amid a sharp exchange of words between the US and China with a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman reiterating Beijing’s jurisdiction over the South China Sea and accusing Washington of attempting to drive a wedge between China and Southeast Asian countries. This came after a major policy speech on Monday by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said the world will not allow China to treat the strategically important South China Sea (SCS) as its “maritime empire.” Pompeo had also vowed to support worried Southeast Asian countries against Beijing’s “campaign of bullying” in its bid to control the resource-rich region.
Reacting to Pompeo’s remarks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing that the US secretary of state’s remarks neglected the history and facts about the SCS, PTI reported. The comments came as two US aircraft carriers – USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan – took part in military drills in the SCS last week.
“The US says China announced a dotted line in the SCS in 2009. It is not true. China’s rights and sovereignty has a long history. Our effective jurisdiction over the relevant islands reefs and waters in the SCS has been there for over 1,000 years,” Zhao said. “As early as 1948 China had officially published the dotted line which is not questioned by any country in the region,” he said, adding that China’s rights have legal and historical basis.
Beijing claims almost all of the 1.3 million square mile South China Sea as its sovereign territory. China has been building military bases on artificial islands in the region also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. China has also impeded commercial activity like fishing or mineral exploration by countries like Vietnam and the Philippines, claiming that the ownership of territory belonged to it for hundreds of years.
On a judgement delivered by an international tribunal in The Hague in 2016, which had rejected China’s claims over the SCS , Zhao said the “arbitral tribunal abused its mandate, breached the principle of consent.”
“The award was based on flawed evidence and unwarranted application of law. The US hyped up the arbitration to further its agenda, China will never accept that.” Zhao said that China is committed to resolving the issue with the concerned countries.