India and China on Thursday agreed to resolve outstanding issues in an “expeditious manner” and in accordance with the existing agreements and protocols, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said after the two sides held a fresh round of diplomatic talks to resolve the border standoff in eastern Ladakh.
MEA Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said the two sides had a “candid and in-depth” exchange of views on the existing situation on the Line of Actual Control(LAC), and reaffirmed to sincerely work towards complete disengagement of the troops in the western sector.
The virtual talks were held under the framework of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on border affairs.
“The two sides had a candid and in-depth exchange of views on the existing situation in the India-China border areas,” Srivastava said at an online media briefing.
“They reaffirmed that in accordance with the agreements reached between the two foreign ministers and the two Special Representatives, the two sides will continue to sincerely work towards complete disengagement of the troops along the Line of Actual Control in the western sector.”
Srivastava further said: “In this context, they agreed to resolve the outstanding issues in an expeditious manner and in accordance with the existing agreements and protocols.”
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had held a telephonic conversation with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on June 17 during which both sides agreed that the overall situation would be handled in a responsible manner.
On July 5, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Wang held a nearly two-hour-long telephonic conversation on ways to resolve the border row.
The formal process of disengagement of troops began a day after Doval-Wang parleys. Both Doval and Wang are Special Representatives for boundary talks.
Referring to the outcome of Thursday’s talks, Srivastava said the two sides were in agreement that restoration of peace and tranquility in the border areas would be essential for the overall development of bilateral relations.
“The two sides further acknowledged the need to maintain close communication through both the diplomatic and military channels so as to ensure complete disengagement. In this regard, they also agreed to continue their ongoing engagements including through the meetings of the WMCC,” he added.
The Indian delegation at the 18th meeting of the WMCC on border affairs was led by Naveen Srivastava, Joint Secretary (East Asia) in the External Affairs Ministry while the Chinese side was headed by Hong Liang, Director General of the Boundary and Oceanic Department of the China’s Foreign Ministry.
According to a statement released by the Chinese Foreign ministry, the two sides positively evaluated the progress made in the disengagement of the front-line forces of the two countries, exchanged candid and in-depth views on the remaining issues on the ground, and enhanced mutual understanding.
The two sides agreed to conscientiously implement the consensus reached between the two foreign ministers and the Special Representatives on China-India boundary question, continue to maintain dialogue and communication through military and diplomatic channels, further cool down the border situation, properly handle the remaining issues on the ground, and jointly maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas, it said.
The previous round of negotiations under the WMCC took place on July 24.
After this talks, the armies of the two countries held their fifth round of Corps commander-level discussions on August 2 with an aim to expedite the disengagement process. However, the disengagement of troops from the friction points in eastern Ladakh has not moved forward as expected by India.
At the military talks, the Indian side insisted on complete disengagement of Chinese troops at the earliest, and immediate restoration of status quo ante in all areas of eastern Ladakh prior to May 5 when the standoff began following a clash between the two armies in Pangong Tso, sources said.
The Chinese military has pulled back from Galwan Valley and certain other friction points but the withdrawal of troops has not moved forward in Pangong Tso, Depsang and a couple of other areas since mid-July, the sources said.
Even as both sides were engaged in diplomatic and military talks, the Indian Army is making elaborate preparations to maintain its current strength of troops in all key areas in eastern Ladakh in the harsh winter months.
Chief of Army Staff Gen MM Naravane has already conveyed to all the senior commanders of the Army, overseeing operation of the frontline formations along the LAC, to maintain a significantly high state of alertness to deal with any Chinese “misadventure”, the sources said.
The Army is also in the process of procuring a number of weapons, ammunition and winter gears for the frontline troops, they added. The temperature in some of the high-altitude areas along the LAC drops to minus 25 degree celsius in the winter months.
The tension between the two sides escalated manifold after the violent clashes in Galwan Valley on June 15 in which 20 Indian Army personnel were killed. The Chinese side also suffered casualties but it is yet to give out the details. According to an American intelligence report, the number of casualties on the Chinese side was 35.
Following the Galwan Valley incident, the government gave the armed forces “full freedom” to give a “befitting” response to any Chinese misadventure along the LAC.
The Indian army sent thousands of additional troops to forward locations along the border following the deadly clashes. The IAF has also moved air defence systems as well as a sizeable number of its frontline combat jets and attack helicopters to several key air bases.