While India claims that “no deal” has been reached to end the stand-off at Ladakh, the confrontation on the icy peaks has certainly warmed up discussions with China on a new border management agreement.
On Sunday, the twenty-day long face-off on the rarefied heights at Daulat Beg Oldi sector ended after China and India finally agreed to withdraw their forces simultaneously. The formal announcement came from the Ministry of External Affairs’ spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin on Monday morning.
“The Governments of India and China have agreed to restore status quo along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Western Sector of the India-China boundary as it existed prior to April 15, 2013,” he said.
Further, flag meetings were held “to work out the modalities and to confirm the arrangements.” The fourth flag meeting between Brigadier-level officers on the two sides took place on Saturday. On Sunday, the finer details of the pull out were finalised between the local military units and then around 5.30 p.m., the pull-out by the two sides began in right earnest. The withdrawal was completed by 7.30 p.m.
Government sources insisted that there had been “no deal”. However, an Indian Army source said that “certain concessions” were made, which includes toning down of aggressive patrolling by ITBP in the sector.
“We have already promised the Chinese in a previous flag meeting that we will examine some military structures against which they had some objections. This is a standard procedure to bring down the heat,” a Brigadier said. “However, no assurance on removal of these structures has been given,” he added.
In Beijing, Chinese foreign office spokesperson Hua Chunying said both countries had “taken a cooperative and constructive attitude, exercised restraint and properly handled the incident through relevant mechanisms, diplomatic channels and border meetings.”
In a statement, she said that the “frontier forces of the two countries have terminated the standoff at the Tiannan River Valley area”.
China would like to work with India to reach a “fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable resolution to border issues” at the earliest possible date, added Hua.
In fact, on the same day as MEA declared an end to the stand-off, it also formally announced the visit of External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid to Beijing on May 9-10. This visit had been scheduled to be in run-up to the visit of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to India later this month. New Delhi had given strong hints that both the visits were in peril, if the Chinese troops continued to remain on Indian territory. There is a distinct perception in the power corridors that the intrusion was a result of the “new equilibrium” at Sino-Indian border, that is, a more developed border infrastructure on the Indian side.
While the Chinese have been systematically laying down rail and road tracks in their side, India has only woken up in the last 8-9 years. India has raised two mountain divisions specifically targeting China, slowly laid down a network of border roads and opened advanced landing ground in the DBO sector, which had been closed for fifty years.
In fact, the Chinese cited India’s “change in behaviour” at the border for its reason for pitching its tents 19 km beyond India’s perception of the LAC.
Significantly, in March, China had given India a draft agreement for establishing new procedures at the border during the visit of People’s Liberation Army deputy chief of general staff Lt General Qi Jiangquo.
This was to replace the 2005 border protocol agreement and reflect the “new equilibrium”, including new principles governing infrastructure build-up at the border. India had so far not given a formal response to the Chinese draft.
The April 15 intrusion, therefore, could be termed as a successful attempt to open up talks on the border control, with a meeting planned soon between Indian and Chinese officials.