India and China have begun a phased disengagement from the Pangong Tso’s southern and northern banks after the two countries had 9 rounds of talk in the worst border tensions since the 1967 Indo-China clash.
The Chinese Senior Colonel and Chinese Ministry of National Defence spokesperson Wu Qian issued a written statement which said that the two countries will start a “synchronised and organised disengagement from 10 February after both countries reached a consensus.
Here is the excerpt of the issued statement: “The Chinese and Indian frontline troops at the southern and northern bank of the Pangong Tso Lake start synchronized and organised disengagement from 10 February… This move is in accordance with the consensus reached by both sides at the 9th round of China-India corps commander-level meeting.”
Staying true to the agreed-upon disengagement process, the countries have initiated the process by withdrawing their tanks and personnel carriers from the southern bank of the Pangong Tso lake in Ladakh.
Meanwhile, Rajnath Singh, India’s defence minister spoke in the Rajya Sabha proceedings and said that the Indian side will be based at their permanent Dhan Singh Thapa Post near Finger 3. Reciprocally, the Chinese troops will be present at the North Bank area to the east of the Finger 8. The two sides will carry out a similar line of action in the Southern bank of the Pangong Tso lake.
Singh also added that the two sides will also deconstruct and remove all the constructions that they have built at the North and South bank during the face-off phase. He also added that patroling will resume only after both sides reach an agreement in the diplomatic talks that are to be held subsequently the disengagement phase.
Rajnath Singh also added, “I want to assure this House that in these talks we have not conceded anything.” There are several important agendas which are regarding the deployment of troops and patrolling at points like the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh which would be the focus of the upcoming discussions.
Although the Indian side had maintained its stance on the importance of the bilateral relations between the two countries and the resolution of the boundary question, the face-off between the two countries has been the cause of tension for both sides. The Defence Minister himself noted that:
“The actions by the Chinese side since last year have seriously disturbed peace and tranquillity. Consequently, they have also had an impact on the overall relationship.”
Importance of the Pangong Tso region
The reason why the two extreme banks of the Pangong Tso are significant to the Indo-China relations is that this is the region where both sides were hurdled into their standoff. The Chinse troops began the standoff by coming 8 km deep inside India’s perceived Line of Actual Control.
Additionally, the south bank of the Pangong Lake is where the Indian troops in August 2020 gained a strategic advantage by taking their place at certain peaks. After that, the Indian troops also repositioned on the north bank and occupied peaks that overlooked the Chinese frontier on the north bank.
Further, there were instances of warning shots, and physical altercations. The region due to these facts became a flashpoint where both the troops sat a few hundred meters apart from each other.
End of the India China standoff?
Although this is a welcome step in the Indo-China border tensions, it should not be considered the resolution to the stand-off. Rajnath Singh in his statement noted that the outstanding issues regarding troop deployment and LAC patrolling will be the focus of further discussions. This means that the two countries are not in a state of complete agreement.
The Indian Defence Minister said that the Chinese side is also well aware of India’s resolve to protect its sovereignty and how he expects China to work with Indians for a better resolution.
Rajnath Singh said, “Both sides agree that complete disengagement under bilateral agreements and protocols should be done as soon as possible. After the talks so far, China is also aware of our resolve to protect the sovereignty of the country. It is our expectation that China will work with us seriously to resolve the remaining issues.”