Prospects of disengagement on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh went into a trough after the 13th Round of Senior Commanders talks held in October
Subsequent statements from both sides and related observations led to indications that there was no hope of a breakthrough for disengagement during the winters and apparently the two armed forces– Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army carried out extensive preparations for winter occupation of heights in chilly sub zero temperature.
23rd Meeting WMCC
However, outcome of the 23rd Meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination (WMCC) on India-China Border Affairs held on November 18, 2021 raises some hope of a breakthrough as statements from the Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing indicate that there is a move to hold the 14th Round of Senior Commanders talks soon.
In a press release on the 23rd Meeting the Ministry of External Affairs indicated that there was an agreement to hold the next round of talks early.
“It was agreed that both sides should hold the next (14th) round of the Senior Commanders meeting at an early date to achieve the objective of complete disengagement from all the friction points along the LAC in the Western Sector in accordance with the existing bilateral agreements and protocols,” as per the Press Release.
A similar positive signalling was evident in statement by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
China Military Online in a cryptic release on November 18 stated, “China and India are in preparation for the 14th round of the China-India Corps Commander Level Meeting, in an effort to resolve the issues regarding the western sector of the China-India border, according to a press release by China's Foreign Ministry on Thursday”.
These developments come even as troops on both sides have occupied the heights and preparations for winter are possibly in the final stages.
The Indian Air Force in tandem with the Indian Army has carried out a joint airlift exercise, ‘Op Hercules’ on 15 November 2021 as per a Ministry of Defence Press Release with the aim “[high intensity airlift ] to strengthen the logistics supply in the Northern sector and to augment winter stocking in the operational areas”.
There are also concerns in India of China occupying and fortifying villages on the Indian side of the McMahon Line, even though Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat seemed to downplay these reports.
China is building border infrastructure and these so-called villages are, "well within their side" of the LAC he said in a Summit organised by the Times Now.
“They have not transgressed anywhere on our perception of the LAC. There are different perceptions. We are very clear where the LAC lies… The Chinese have a perception, which in some areas we know and in other areas we don’t. As far as we are concerned, there is no such village development that has taken place on our side of the LAC,” said Gen Rawat.
This was in direct contradiction to the Ministry of External Affairs Official Spokesperson, Shri Arindam Bagchi, who in his weekly press briefing on November 11 said, “As we had stated then, China has undertaken construction activities in the past several years along the border areas, including in the areas that it has illegally occupied over decades. India has neither accepted such illegal occupation of our territory, nor has it accepted the unjustified Chinese claims. Government has always conveyed its strong protest to such activities through diplomatic means, and will continue to do so in the future”.
On the same occasion of the Times Now Summit General Rawat said, China is the biggest security threat facing India, “much bigger” than Pakistan. “The threat on the northern borders is much bigger,” he said. “We are well prepared for any misadventure... Should they carry out a Galwan-like incident again, they will get it (back) in the same coin as they got last time,” said Gen Rawat.
Despite these contra indicators above, the 23rd WMCC has raised hopes.
Recent geo-political cues also need to be taken into account. The Biden Xi Summit on November 17th has set the agenda for a possible slowing down of the US and China contretemps in the short term at least.
A breakdown of communications between the military leaders on disengagement on the borders is a concern but the dialogue at the diplomatic level, provides some hope of restoration of Senior Commanders talks, and maybe an Indo China Summit may also be in the offing.