Indian and Chinese armoured columns pulling back from Rechin La on the southern side of Pangong Tso Wednesday | Credit: Army
Indian and Chinese armoured columns pulling back from Rechin La on the southern side of Pangong Tso Wednesday | Credit: Army
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New Delhi: A grueling winter deployment resulting in higher Chinese casualties than Indian, Beijing’s understanding that New Delhi is not backing down, coupled with the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party in July — these are believed to be the reasons why China finally came around to disengaging at Pangong Tso in Ladakh, ThePrint has learnt.

Government sources said the disengagement process, which began Wednesday, was not sudden but had actually been under discussion since September — the same month that the Indian and Chinese foreign and defence ministers met in Russia. Since then, the sources added, there had been several rounds of discussion during which both India and China eased their stands.

The proposal for a phased disengagement, sources said, actually came from the Chinese after a call was set up between National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi in July. 

The call saw both sides agree to the “earliest complete disengagement of the troops along the LAC and de-escalation from India-China border areas for full restoration of peace and tranquility”, for the first time after tensions erupted in Ladakh in April.

When External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar subsequently met his Chinese counterpart Wang on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) foreign ministers’ meeting in Moscow two months later, both sides agreed to a step-by-step plan on “disengagement, de-escalation and finally restoration of status quo”, sources said.

Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh formally announced Thursday that India and China have agreed to disengage at Pangong Tso, one of the three flashpoint areas in the ongoing stand-off — the others are Gogra-Hot Springs and the crucial Depsang Plains.  

According to Singh, the agreement reached will see the Chinese soldiers retreat to east of Finger 8 on the northern bank of the Pangong Tso, which marks the Line of Actual Control (LAC). During the stand-off, the Chinese had moved to Finger 4. Indian troops will be based at their permanent base at Dhan Singh Thapa Post near Finger 3, he said, adding that a similar action will be taken by both sides in the South Bank area. 

Experts in defence and diplomacy have greeted the development with caution — noting that disengagement may be a tactical move by China in the face of its deteriorating relationship with the US, they said India should remain “vigilant”.


Also Read: The LAC disengagement will ultimately lead to China giving up claims in northeast


Breaking stalemate

Over the course of the stand-off, India and China have conducted multiple rounds of talks at the military and diplomatic levels, but the stalemate, sources said, was finally tackled during the Corps Commander dialogue last month.

The stalemate was caused as India and China struggled to see eye-to-eye on how exactly to move forward with resolving the stand-off.

In September, China asked India to withdraw from certain crucial heights on the southern banks of the Pangong Tso — heights Indian soldiers occupied in an operation on the intervening night of 29-30 August that took the People’s Liberation Army by surprise.

India, meanwhile, insisted on disengagement at all friction points in Ladakh. However, the Chinese were not open to withdrawing from Finger 4, which they had captured in May 2020. 

As the Chinese realised that India was not budging, sources said, China modified its proposal in October and brought in a plan for phased withdrawal. They said the PLA would withdraw from Finger 4 to Finger 5 and called for making Finger 4 a no-go area. This proposal, too, was rejected by India as it wanted the PLA to move behind Finger 8.

With the icy-cold Ladakh winter bringing temperatures as low as minus 20 degrees Celsius in November, China agreed to go behind Finger 8, sources said.

According to the proposal agreed to by both sides, the Chinese were to move back beyond Finger 8 and also remove all tents and observation posts set up in an 8-km area. Similarly, Indian troops were to move back to the Dhan Singh Thapa post, which is between Finger 2 and Finger 3.

After this broader agreement, the talks again went into a stalemate, and the next round of Corps Commander dialogue was not held until 24 January.

In the interim, India and China withdrew over 10,000 troops each from depth areas as part of a joint understanding while keeping soldiers untouched in forward locations.

Speaking to ThePrint, sources refused to get into the reasons for the stalemate. On 24 January, after talks lasting 16-and-a-half hours, the stalemate ended and both sides decided to go ahead with the disengagement.

Multiple talks were held at the local commanders level, sources said, to work out the nitty gritty of disengagement, which began Wednesday.

The row at the two other points — Gogra-Hot Springs and Depsang Plains — will take time to resolve, sources added.


Also Read: India, China begin fresh disengagement, but ‘trust deficit means it’ll be a long process’


Reasons for disengagement

Indian government sources said the Chinese had been keen to disengage before the winter set in, but India did not play ball.

According to them, Chinese troops were being posted to such forward locations for the first time and, contrary to belief that they were well-settled, the medical casualties were higher. The current stand-off marks the first time that India and China have deployed soldiers in forward areas in Ladakh during the region’s bitter winter.

Sources said the Indian operation in August had surprised the Chinese and they realised that India was not backing down and this face-off could last much longer than they had calculated.

Also on the Chinese mind, sources said, was the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party in July and the “image President Xi Jinping wanted to portray”.

Xi, sources added, could not have a situation where the Chinese celebrated even as the stand-off with India continued.


Also Read: Why India, China want to disengage at LAC, & how standoff has changed the strategic picture


‘India should stay vigilant’

M. Taylor Fravel, an eminent China scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), said the two sides have been working towards this disengagement for quite some time.

“Although it remains early days, my view is that China is responding to the significant deterioration of US-China relations in the past year, and the way in which its international image has suffered in many countries, at a time when the party will launch the 14th five-year plan that is critical to its development goals,” Fravel added.

The 14th five-year plan (2021-2025) was unveiled by Xi in October 2020 at the fifth Plenum of the 19th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. 

“The success of this plan requires China’s greater engagement with the world and thus greater stability and fewer points of friction with other states,” he said. “Thus, China seeks to prevent any further deterioration in ties with India and to prevent the risk of escalation that might upset its development plans.” 

Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal said India should remain vigilant, noting that disengagement at Pangong Tso can resolve the present stand-off, but the fundamental challenge of defining the LAC remains. 

“This is a period of interregnum because uncertainty in bilateral relations continues to prevail… Xi has a ‘certain vision’ of the world and he will continue to pursue it relentlessly,” he added. 

“The latest move can be seen as a tactical move because China’s relations with the US will deteriorate in the times to come. Signals from the Biden administration are not going in Beijing’s favour,” he said.

The US Department of Defense Wednesday announced the creation of a 15-member China Task Force to reassert its vision for the Indo-Pacific, which America believes China is “seeking to overturn”.

Jayadeva Ranade, former member of the National Security Advisory Board and an expert on China, welcomed the disengagement but remained sceptical of China.

“I don’t trust the Chinese and I am sure the government and the forces also don’t,” he said.

The withdrawal is not sudden and had been a matter of talks for some time, he added. One will have to wait and see the reaction in China to the disengagement process because “that will be a factor in how China carries the process forward”, he said.

One main reason for Chinese disengagement is that Beijing never calculated that India will be willing to carry forward the stand-off for so long, Ranade added.


Also Read: How India and China resolved three major stand-offs in the Modi era


 

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18 COMMENTS

  1. India could not put up a fight with 6 times smaller country Pakistan let alone dream to fight Super power China who killed 20 Indian soldiers, occupied 42000 sqkm of Indian land according to the Daily Hindu, let India begged for 10 times in border meetings to let the occupied area go and only withdrawal from Pangong Tsu till finger 4 which is not strategically an important area and according to Gen. Hooda, it’s just a lake that has no strategic value while retaking its strategic areas of Kailash Mountains. In other terms india accepted horrendous defeat by Chinese since China officially said that it captured back its 1959 area. China also said that in Ladakh there is no LINE OF ACTUAL CONTROL with India, what does it mean, it mean entire Ladakh is inside Chinese Sovereignty including HImachal – China also said in clear terms that there will be no compromise on its sovereignty. Read or watch blogs by Lt. Gen. Hooda, Lt. Gen H.S. Panag, Col. Pravin Sawhiny and Col. Ajay Shukla. India army has absolutely no idea how to fight a war, they can’t put up fight with smaller Pakistan, who downed two IAF aircraft in the broad day light. Indian army has 3 war domains while China has 9 war domains, Army, Navy, Airforce, cyber, space, electronic spectrum, microwave, deep sea and AI. Indian military thinks killing few untrained in Counter terrorism operation is all about war. In fact involving military in CT operation is the main cause that Indian military became impotent and useless in fighting a real war.

    • ni hao wu mao. so called china superpower left its own occupied territory. xi jingping has become a failure. he should be thrown out by chinese people.

  2. I dont India stood its ground? You gave away a strong Position in pangong so….and China didnt move an inch out of depsang. Wonder who Indian government is trying to hood wink.

  3. Go at a very slow pace I would say at a snails space in the pull back these locations as these chinese cannot be trusted and also for the fact that we hold a very strategic Vantage point and if memory serves they the Chinese PLA are always changing and adapting or continue to do a work around to get to us and grab our area so what ever the ex chief are indicated that it’s not worth it the ex chief is an ex now and he should rest and develop themselves how the defence of india can out manuver every attack China or Pakistan display their blodness and thwart us all the time

  4. The mandarins are known for playing hardball, so perhaps their whole strategy had been all along to pretend to give India ‘something”… a “phased withdrawal” from Pangong Tso (for now), so that they can then play hardball over control of Depsang Plains and Gogra Hot Springs, which they consider to have considerably more significant military value?

  5. The Kailash Hills of Senapau and Mukhpari in the southern part of the lake have to be abandoned, which have made India’s position strategically weak for negotiations. The territory between finger 3 and 4 up to which we had made road has also given up and patrolling right up to finger 8 have not been allowed as yet. Withdrawal of Chinese from Dipsang, Gogra and Hot Springs areas are yet to be discussed. These areas near Daulat Beg Oldie airport and road to it and Karakuram Pass are strategically very important for India..Our strategic weight during negotiations to remove Chinese troops from Dipsang, Gogra and Hot Springs has weakened. Conisdering the trust deficit between the two countries, road further has to be treaded cautiously so that all our territory is secure.

  6. PLA is scared of Indian Army and is now running away. Indian Army should chase it out of entire Aksai Chin and also liberate Tibet. All our brave soldiers in Ladhak should be conferred the highest gallantry awards and at least hundred crore rupees each as monetary rewards.

  7. The main reason for Chinese withdrawal has to do with Biden in White House. Chinese are trying to get into good books with Biden White House due to commercial reasons and they could not continue to that being derailed because of india

  8. What a silly article……China invaded Indian land, killed Indian soldiers & went back at its own discretion…………Indian army & air force could nor fire a single bullet against the intruding Chinese. What message has gone around the world??………..Modi India can only fight against much much smaller Pakistan but becomes completely tamed by a bigger Chinese dragon……………China has made its point loud & clear !!!

    • Lawwllzz

      The dumplings of Xit Pingpong have been given a flatter nose than they already have.

      Read proper history if you have internet in the middle of load shedding

  9. Don’t trust the PLA. They always had upper hand in terms of infrastructure, equipment and bases but if they cannot withstand the winter, then there is no reason they can’t be pushed back in long standoff at Depsang or Gogra. We should jump at the opportunity and not pretend to be gentlemen and not pushing them back further in Aksai Chin.

    However don’t be surprised if incursions continue as before – Demchok, Chumur, Shipki La, Palam Sumda, Barahoti, etc. That is the only way they know to keep us on edge on a border which they clearly know they can’t control forever.

  10. I am glad that our leadership and armed forces are cynical about the Chinese withdrawal. Chinese are good at biding their time. They may regroup and grab territory during summer months. Once bitten, twice shy should be India’s motive. India’s resistence to China’s perceived “might” for so long is a good message to anyone who wants a fight with India, especially our neighbour to the West who calls Indian army as Hindu army and weak. India won’t give up. Period.

    I am glad this article fills us with confidence about our country and our people, unlike other writers here who are full of negativity about India.

  11. There is a Saying AS – FIRE , DISEASE & ENEMY Should Not Be HALF ATTENDED . IT MAY RELAPSE ANY MOMENT.
    Hence !!! We Should NEVER COMMIT SAME MISTAKE OF 1971 of not PUTTING PAKISTAN IN IT’ S Place then . For THIS MISTAKE Many INNOCENT CITIZENS are Paying THE PENALTY .
    I t is humble request to THE CONCERNED AUTHORITIES TO HANDLE THE PRESENT SITUATION with CHINA CAUSCIOUSLY .
    With Best Wishes For Betterment Always,
    SHIVA KUMAR.T.N.

  12. Many Indians don’t even understand the implication of such agreements and repositioning of troops on both sides.
    Politicians are uneducated. The military leaders and geostrategic thinkers should come forward to speak out more forcefully.
    Brahma Chellaney, a Delhi-based expert in the field, commented on his facebook:
    “India’s ‘Chinese New Year’ gift to CCP: The decision to vacate the Kailash Range’s dominating heights will go down in history as a major Indian strategic folly that India will later deeply regret. It’s the equivalent of India’s return of Haji Pir that still haunts Indian security.
    Sadly, Indian leaders fail to learn from history, so history keeps repeating itself. Indian PMs repeatedly have surrendered at the negotiating table the major gains from the sacrifices of the fallen. Today, India is a “lamb” state, surrounded by “wolf” China and “jackal” Pakistan.””
    We are told that the Chinese have in the past moved back, for instance, five miles when Indians have protested their incursion and then moved 10 miles ahead when the media noise had subsided. The public needs to know truthfully in understandable explanation.
    In my opinion, China will definitely like to mend fences with India, a formidable neighbor, because she sees her tougher days with the USA and the rest coming.

  13. China want to disengage as it may want to invade Taiwan. If Japan and other American allies goes to war with China, India should participate and support America. If not when China comes back with its might America will not support India.

  14. Now Mr. Shivam Vij, Ms. Rama Lakshmi and others of their ilk will say that its just plain luck. The Indian govt and the defence forces have nothing to do with the disengagement.

  15. In simple terms China did come with an intention to do a bit of bullying.
    Did not expect India will stand up to the strong arm tactics. Probably wanted to complete the display of strength before winter. History shows that winter have spelled doom for many a bullies.
    How the disengagement happened is not as important as to why it happened.
    That appears to be more from the realization that culture of presenting the other cheek when slapped on one is over.
    Caution is must but unlikely the Chinese will be back.
    Price for just display of strength will be too high there is nothing to be gained from this aggression.

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