Indian and Chinese troops pull back from disputed Himalayan border area

Indian and Chinese troops have begun to pull back from another disputed Himalayan border area, as peace talks between senior military officials after deadly clashes in 2020 continue.

The two defence ministries confirmed troops were disengaging from respective sides in the area of Gogra-Hot Springs, in a move “conducive to the peace and tranquillity in the border areas”.

The withdrawal was according to a consensus reached in July during the 16th and most recent round of bilateral talks between top commanders, both ministries said.

It marks the second major act of disengagement since August 2021, when troops “ceased forward deployments” and dismantled infrastructure in another area also near Gogra. The act was described at the time by India’s ministry as restoring the area on both sides to the “pre-standoff period”.

The dispute centres along the line of actual control (LAC), which divides areas of physical control, rather than territorial claims, and separates Chinese-held and Indian-held territories from Ladakh in the west to India’s eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims in its entirety. It is broken into parts where Nepal and Bhutan border China.

According to India, the control line is 2,167 miles (3,488km) long, while China says it is considerably shorter.

Tensions over the disputed section of border in the Himalayas exploded in June 2020, when at least 24 soldiers died during violent clashes. Indian authorities said 20 of its soldiers had died, while Beijing confirmed just four Chinese deaths. It was the deadliest event between the two nuclear powers in 50 years. After the clashes, in which soldiers fought with sticks and rocks in hand-to-hand combat, the two countries stationed hundreds of thousands of soldiers backed by artillery, tanks and fighter jets along the LAC.

Amid claims of continuing encroachment by the Chinese military, top military leaders from both sides have since met 16 times to negotiate and there have been several disengagements. However the two countries have struggled to agree on some specifics, and tensions have remained high.

Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, said the return of peace and tranquillity in the border region “still looks distant”.

“The latest disengagement agreement relates to the smallest Chinese encroachment – on a traditional Indian patrolling area,” Chellaney, who is also a former member of India’s national security advisory board, said.

“China has been reluctant thus far to discuss with India its largest and deepest encroachment – into the northernmost Depsang plateau of the Indian Ladakh region.

“China’s stealth encroachments of April 2020 on the borderlands of Indian Ladakh violated all its border-peace agreements with India over the years. Since then, China has engaged in a frenzied buildup of its military infrastructure and capabilities along the Himalayas. The two countries, consequently, remain on a war footing along the glaciated heights of the Himalayas.”

The Guardian

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