India and China have agreed to step up efforts for the disengagement of troops and de-escalation of tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) after a conversation between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in South Africa, Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said on August 24.
The meeting between Mr. Modi and Mr. Xi took place on August 23, sources said, as the two leaders attended the BRICS summit in Johannesburg along with leaders from Brazil, Russia and South Africa. However, the announcement of the talks was kept under wraps until the next day, just prior to the PM’s departure for Greece.
While the Mr. Modi and Mr. Xi had spoken briefly on the sidelines of the Bali G-20 summit dinner last year about the need to “stabilise the LAC”, this is the first such conversation in the last three years where the two leaders spoke at some length on resolving the issue. A military standoff has been underway along the LAC since April 2020, after transgressions by the Chinese military and the killings that followed at Galwan in eastern Ladakh. The conversation between the two leaders could represent a thaw in ties that have been in limbo since the beginning of the standoff, with Indian officials maintaining that there could be no “business as usual” while the LAC situation persists.
‘Respect the LAC’
“In a conversation with President Xi Jinping of China, PM highlighted India’s concerns on the unresolved issues along the LAC in the western sector of the India-China border areas,” Mr. Kwatra said, briefing the media at the end of the three-day event in Johannesburg. He added that Mr. Modi had “underlined that the maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the border areas and observing and respecting the LAC are essential for the normalisation of the India-China relationship.”
The readout given by the Foreign Secretary, however, made no mention of the Prime Minister making any reference to India’s earlier position that a reversion to the “status quo ante” as of April 2020 was necessary to resolve the conflict.
Mr. Kwatra said that the two leaders had decided to “direct their relevant officials to intensify efforts at expeditious disengagement and de-escalation”, indicating the current talks being held between military commanders at the LAC. These talks had been extended earlier this month after an unsuccessful 19th round of commander level talks were completed on August 14.
As The Hindu reported, the talks were restarted a few days later and Major Generals on both sides reportedly discussed the stalemate over the disengagement of troops at the Depsang Plains and Demchok in eastern Ladakh, where the Chinese military had reportedly stationed thousands of troops and built entrenched infrastructure. In addition, the creation of buffer zones as part of agreements between the two sides has restricted patrolling by the troops.
While no timeline was given for the “expeditious” resolution of the issue after the meeting between the two leaders, the situation has some parallels to the 2017 Doklam conflict between India and China that ended after a similar encounter between Mr. Modi and Mr. Xi on the sidelines of that year’s G-20 Summit in Hamburg. India and China had then resumed ties after the PM travelled to China for the BRICS summit that year.
Editorial | Elusive consensus: On transparency and the state of India-China ties
In this case, the BRICS summit provided the meeting ground for the two leaders, while the Chinese President is expected to travel to Delhi for the G-20 summit beginning on September 9, where the two leaders may take discussions further. Mr. Modi and Mr. Xi may both also attend the East Asia Summit beginning in Indonesia on September 6, just prior to the G-20 summit, although neither side has officially announced any travel plans for the two events next month.