Diplomats from India and China agreed on Friday to a fast pull back of troops eyeballing each other across the disputed Ladakh border in the western Himalayas where 20 Indian soldiers died in a clash last month, the Indian government said.
There were no shots fired during the June 15 fighting in the Galwan Valley of India’s Ladakh region when the Indian soldiers were beaten with rocks and clubs, but it still marked the worst clash in decades between Asia’s nuclear-armed powerhouses.
India, China to reduce troops at Ladakh
Since then the two sides have held several rounds of talks to restore calm and reduced the numbers of troops in the valley, while still pouring reinforcements into the wider region.
At a virtual meeting, diplomats from both sides reviewed the halting progress made so far in ending the standoff on the “Line of Actual Control” or the de facto border.
Both sides agreed on “early and complete disengagement” of troops on the control line and de-escalation of border areas to ensure the restoration of peace and smooth relations, India’s foreign ministry said. The countries’ top military commanders were to meet again soon to “ensure expeditiously complete disengagement”, it added.
All the weapon systems India is suddenly buying will make little difference if it lacks the political will to punish an aggressor. India has the world's most-experienced army in hybrid mountain warfare. But that didn't deter China because it knows India won't fire the first shot. pic.twitter.com/Xse54bU2Oq
— Brahma Chellaney (@Chellaney) July 25, 2020
There was no immediate readout from the Chinese side. The Line of Actual Control was established after a war in 1962, but it is poorly defined and there have been sporadic flare ups over the decades though no cross-border firing.
Indian army sources claimed in early July that China has started a retreat of its troops from the Galwan Valley area in the northern Himalayan region of Ladakh, where recent clashes took place between the two sides.
In a first sign of disengagement from the site of the June 15 clash Chinese troops were seen “dismantling tents and moving back in vehicles,” an official from the Indian Army told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity.
Defensive structures at patrolling point 14, the main site of the June 15 clash that killed 20 Indian soldiers including a colonel, were removed and the Chinese army moved back by “at least a mile [1.6 kilometers]”, said the official, adding that the Indian army was closely monitoring the disengagement of troops.
Skirmishes between troops at Ladakh led to talks on de-escalation
India and China agree on border de-escalation as their foreign ministers spoke on the phone in June and agreed to abide by existing bilateral agreements to ensure peace and tranquillity on their disputed Himalayan border. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers in border skirmishes with the Chinese military will “not be in vain,” and vowed a response if there is further provocation.
“I would like to assure the country that the sacrifice of our soldiers will not be in vain. For us, the unity and integrity of the country is the most important… India wants peace but is capable of giving a reply if provoked,” Modi said in a televised address.
I would like to assure the nation that the sacrifice of our jawans will not be in vain. For us, the unity and sovereignty of the country is the most important…India wants peace but it is capable to give a befitting reply if instigated: PM Narendra Modi #IndiaChinaFaceOff pic.twitter.com/kFIC3F1fE4
— ANI (@ANI) June 17, 2020
The PM’s comments came after deadly skirmishes in the mountainous Galwan Valley, a disputed region near Kashmir that is claimed by both China and India as sovereign territory.
Shortly after Modi’s comments the Chinese foreign ministry said that it has agreed with India to de-escalate the situation as soon as possible.
The ministry said in a statement that senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi told Indian Foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on Wednesday that India should severely punish those responsible for the conflict and control its frontline troops.
However, there were skirmishes between troops even after these high-level military talks took place.
India China border conflict is long-standing
The recent clashes between China and India are a manifestation of long-standing tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors, according to an expert on South Asian geopolitics.
“The Himalayan border problem between Pakistan, India, and China is not a new issue – it goes back at least 70 years,” Umit Alperen, a researcher and professor, said in an online discussion with Cemal Demir, head of the Istanbul-based South Asia Strategic Research Center (GASAM).
“With the [coronavirus] pandemic, economic problems have increased in all countries. In order to preserve their power, governments worldwide have started using a populist and nationalistic discourse in domestic policies, which is also reflected in their foreign policies,” he said.
The escalation between Beijing and New Delhi, he added, has proven that relations between Asia’s major powers are “on thin ice amid a changing and more chaotic global system.”
GVS News Desk with additional information from other sources