A step toward ending the standoff that has been going on since May 2020 was made on Thursday when India and China declared that their soldiers have started to withdraw from Patrolling Point-15 in the Gogra-Hotsprings region of Eastern Ladakh.
The action was taken in advance of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) conference that will be held in Uzbekistan the following week and that both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping will attend. Aside from a meeting in November 2019 at the BRICS Summit in Brasilia and the start of the impasse in April 2020, the two leaders have not spoken since. Neither side has yet said if they will undertake bilateral talks outside of the summit.
“The Indian and Chinese troops in the area of Gogra-Hotsprings (PP-15) have begun to disengage in a coordinated and planned way, which is conducive to the peace and tranquilly in the border areas,” the two sides said in a joint statement released on Thursday.
“This is in accordance with the consensus reached in the 16th round of India China Corps Commander Level Meeting. According to a defense official, the ground commanders on both sides worked out the procedures that are now being executed after reaching an agreement at the Corps Commander level. The official stated that the disengagement started this morning and is now in progress and that more information on the procedures is forthcoming.
16th round of negotiations
On July 17, 2022, at the Chushul border staff meeting location on the Indian side, the 16th round of negotiations took place. According to the earlier agreement on disengagement, a buffer zone is to be established at the flashpoints after both sides have withdrawn their soldiers, and new patrolling guidelines are to be established after total disengagement and de-escalation.
The two parties have held 16 rounds of discussions so far since the standoff started in May 2020. Following the violent clash in Galwan in 2020, both sides of Pangong Tso were disengaged in February 2021, as well as from PP-17 in the Gogra-Hotsprings region in August. Demchok and Depsang remain the key issues of contention, which China has steadfastly refused to recognize because, in its view, they are not involved in the current standoff.
According to officials, India would continue to push for total withdrawal and de-escalation from all hot spots, and the talks at the Corps Commander level will go on. Prior to the aggressive measures on the South Bank of Pangong Tso in August 2020, both sides had begun a partial disengagement from PP15 and 17A after disengaging from PP14 in Galwan. However, the process was put on hold.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited India shortly after the 15th round of negotiations in March, and he and Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar met in Bali during the G20 foreign ministers meeting in July to review the situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
India has consistently demanded the restoration of the status quo and restoration along the LAC, stating that the relationship cannot return to normal as long as the situation surrounding the impasse persists. Both sides are still stationing over 50,000 soldiers and large pieces of equipment not far from the LAC. China has also engaged in extensive infrastructure, housing, and support structure construction over the past two years in order to keep its troops close to the LAC, changing the situation on the ground.
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