The latest round of talks between the Indian and Chinese military to ease a 17-month standoff around the Ladakh border have failed. The continuing – and at times deadly – standoff means the two armies will maintain their military posture in the forward for a second consecutive winter in freezing temperatures.
In a statement, India’s defence ministry said on Monday that the Chinese side was “not agreeable” and “could not provide any forward-looking proposals” in response to New Delhi’s “constructive suggestions”.
Meanwhile, a statement from a Chinese military spokesperson said, “The Indian side sticks to unreasonable and unrealistic demands, adding difficulties to the negotiations.”
Maintaining multi-tier deployment
After a two months hiatus, the commanders from both militaries held talks on Sunday at Moldo on the Chinese side in the Ladakh area. Ten of thousands of soldiers from both sides remain deployed along the de facto border called the Line of Actual Control (LAC), backed by artillery, tanks, and fighter jets.
Since February, both countries have continued to maintain extra troops as part of a multi-tier deployment. However, both militaries have pulled back troops from the northern and southern banks of the glacial lake Pangong Tso, Gogra and Galwan Valley.
Indian media reported that troops have been added at Demchok and Depsang Plains.
“They are there to stay, we are there to stay”
Earlier on Saturday, a frustrated Indian army chief bemoaned the massive deployment of troops and weaponry by the Chinese side.
General Manoj Mukund Naravane said, “Yes, it is a matter of concern that the large-scale build-up has occurred and continues to be in place, and to sustain that kind of a build-up, there has been an equal amount of infrastructure development on the Chinese side.”
General Naravane said, “So, it means that they (China) are there to stay. We are keeping a close watch on all these developments, but if they are there to stay, we are there to stay, too.”
Meanwhile, in a separate statement, Chinese Western Theater Command’s Senior Colonel Long Shaohua said, “China’s determination to safeguard its sovereignty is unwavering, and China hopes India will not misjudge the situation.”
Temperatures in the forward areas in Ladakh drop to as low as -30 degrees Celsius around January. In the past, troops from both sides used to retreat to their traditional summer holding positions but since the beginning of the stand-off in May 2020, they have held their positions near the disputed border.
Earlier last year, 20 Indian troops were killed in a clash with Chinese soldiers involving clubs, stones, and fists along the disputed border. At the time, China said that it had lost four soldiers as well.
The so-called Line of Actual Control separates the Himalayan territories from Ladakh in the west to India’s eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh. China stakes claim to the entire territory. Earlier in 1962, the countries – which share a 3,500 kilometres long frontier – fought a deadly war over the border.
Since the beginning of the standoff last year, the Chinese have been aggressively building dozens of large weather-proof structures along the LAC for their troops to stay in during the winter. Indian media reported that the construction projects in eastern Ladakh include new helipads, widening of airstrips, new barracks, new surface-to-air missile sites, and radar locations.