Indian and Chinese Military Commanders Held Meetings To Defuse Border Tensions

DELHI (GDC) — Indian and Chinese military commanders met Saturday to try to resolve a bitter standoff along their disputed frontier high in the Himalayas where thousands of troops on both sides are facing off.

India and China are deploying two Lieutenant General-rank officers for talks this week to resolve the ongoing standoff in Ladakh, stepping beyond established protocols as tensions on the border refuse to die down.

India’s 14 Corps Commander will meet the chief of China’s Southern Xinjiang Military District on 6 June in eastern Ladakh after the protocol in place — where talks involve local tactical commanders — failed to resolve the month-long border row

Military experts have described the step as “unprecedented”, saying it shows India is in for a hard bargain as it looks to find a way out of the border row. 

The meeting at a border post was attended by senior commanders and was the highest-level encounter so far. Local border commanders held a series of meetings in the past month but failed to break the impasse.

On Friday, Indian and Chinese foreign ministry officials discussed the border tensions.

There were no immediate details available on Saturday’s meeting. Both India and China have provided little official information on the standoff, but media in the two countries have closely covered the escalating tensions.

Indian officials say the standoff began in early May when large contingents of Chinese soldiers entered deep inside Indian-controlled territory at three places in Ladakh, erecting tents and posts. They said the Chinese soldiers ignored repeated verbal warnings to leave, triggering shouting matches, stone-throwing and fistfights.

India also mobilized thousands of soldiers.

Chinese and Indian soldiers also faced off along the frontier in India’s northeastern Sikkim state in early May.

China has sought to downplay the confrontation while saying the two sides were communicating through both their front-line military units and their respective embassies to resolve issues.

Experts in India cautioned that there was little expectation of any immediate resolution in the military meeting. In the past, most disputes between China and India have been resolved quickly through such meetings, although some required diplomatic intervention.

Lt. Gen. D.S. Hooda, who retired as head of the Indian military’s Northern Command, under which Kashmir and Ladakh fall, said the negotiations are going to be “long and hard.”

“There won’t be much headway at military-level talks in terms of resolving the issue. But the military-level talks will help deescalate tensions on the ground and set a stage for diplomatic negotiations,” Hooda said.

Though skirmishes aren’t new along their long-disputed frontier, the standoff at Ladakh’s Galwan Valley, where India is building a strategic road connecting the region to an airstrip close to China, has escalated in recent weeks.

The Chinese “ingress into the Galwan River valley opens up a new and worrying chapter,” Ajai Shukla, a former Indian military officer and a defense commentator, wrote on his website.

India unilaterally declared Ladakh a federal territory while separating it from disputed Kashmir in August 2019. China was among the handful of countries to strongly condemn the move, raising it at international forums including the U.N. Security Council.

The China-India border dispute covers nearly 3,500 kilometers (2,175 miles) of frontier that the two countries call the Line of Actual Control. They fought a bitter war in 1962 that spilled into Ladakh. The two sides have been trying since the early 1990s to settle their dispute without success.

The most serious dispute is over China’s claims that India’s northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh is part of Tibet, which India rejects.

China claims about 90,000 square kilometers (35,000 square miles) of territory in India’s northeast, while India says China occupies 38,000 square kilometers (15,000 square miles) of its territory in the Aksai Chin Plateau in the Himalayas, a contiguous part of the Ladakh region.

Hooda said the level of physical violence in the current standoff is “unprecedented and different from the past.”

“The tensest of standoffs between soldiers of the two sides in the past have been marked by a remarkable degree of restraint and an understanding of not using force,” he said. “If this restraint breaks down, each transgression could become a flash point.”

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