LAC row: China's 'disengagement' plan & deployment in eastern Ladakh

 | Updated: Dec 11, 2021, 05:48 PM IST

Earlier this year, China had announced that its troops at the southern and northern banks of the Pangong Tso had started "synchronised and organised disengagement".

Pangong Tso in Ladakh

Earlier this year, the Chinese national defence ministry had announced that "the Chinese and Indian frontline troops at the southern and northern banks of the Pangong Tso started synchronised and organised disengagement from February 10."

The move came after months of standoff along the Line of Actual Control(LAC) since May 2020 when Chinese troops moved along the border.

In June last year, Indian and Chinese troops clashed at Galwan Valley leading to the death of 20 Indian soldiers and four 4 PLA soldiers, although reports claimed the casualties in the Chinese army was much higher.


India-China disengagement

The disengagement was set to take place in stages with frontline troops and heavy armour set to pull back. Indian Army released photos of Chinese troops withdrawing from the contentious Pangong Tso area.

Reports claimed Chinese troops were in the process of dismantling bunkers along the border as the pullback got underway.

Indian and Chinese commanders had decided to restore the status quo as it was before May 2020 when the India-China standoff began.

Chinese troops were also to withdraw from Finger 4 to the east of Finger 8 on the Pangong north bank. The Chinese side said:  “This move is in accordance with the consensus reached by both sides at the 9th round of China-India Corps Commander Level meeting.”


India-China begins disengagement

In late February both sides declared that they had completed the disengagement process on the north and south banks of Pangong Tso lake in eastern Ladakh as the tenth round of commander-level talks began.

However, there were issues to be dwelt with in Hot Springs, Depsang and Gogra areas. Reports said Chinese troops had pulled back to the east of Finger 8 and Indian troops had moved back Dhan Singh Thapa post near Finger 3.

However, in June this year, a full year since the clash at Galwan Valley India's foreign ministry said the "process of disengagement remains unfinished".

"The two sides have agreed that in the interim they would maintain stability on the ground and avoid any new incidents," India's foreign ministry said.


India China disengagement

In August, after the 12th round of commander level talks, India said, "Both sides have ceased forward deployments in this area (Gogra) in a phased, coordinated and verified manner."

"The disengagement process was carried out over two days i.e. 04 and 05 August 2021. The troops of both sides are now in their respective permanent bases,” India said after the conclusion of commander-level talks on July 31.

“This agreement ensures that the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in this area will be strictly observed and respected by both sides, and that there is no unilateral change in status quo.” India's statement added.

However, later reports claimed China had begun constructing accommodation for troops in forward areas on its side of LAC in eastern Ladakh including in Hot Springs, Tashigong, Manza and  Churup.



China deploys troops along LAC

In the past two months, Indian Army officials have repeatedly said China has been ramping up troop concentration along the border.

Indian Army chief Gen Naravane said the PLA had amassed troops along the border in "considerable numbers" as he assured that the country had inducted "advanced weaponry" and was ready "to meet any eventuality".

General MM Naravane added that if the PLA stays then "we are there to stay too" referring to the simmering tension along the border.


Chinese Air Force deployed at airbases

IAF's air chief marshal V R Chaudhari claimed the Chinese Air Force has still deployed three airbases facing eastern Ladakh amid disengagement talks between the commanders of the two sides.

India's air chief marshal said China's infrastructure development along the LAC was carrying on "at a very high rate".

Chinese troops had also conducted high altitude exercises in Tibet deploying the latest weapons as reports claimed the drills included the use of live ammunition drills and anti-aircraft batteries including Type 15 light tanks.

The Chinese media further claimed that authorities were building 30 airports in Tibet and Xinjiang provinces.


Infrastructure development on the Chinese side

Last month Chinese military spokesman said India was making "unreasonable and unrealistic demands" as India's defence ministry said China was "not agreeable" to discussing "constructive suggestions... (and) could not provide any forward-looking proposals" even as China continued its troop build-up along the border with the approaching winter.

India's Lieutenant General Manoj Pande had said the army had "observed some infrastructure development on the Chinese side" while adding that "has led to (a higher) number of troops that are now located or placed there."

Last month, India's external affairs minister S. Jaishankar put things in perspective saying that the relations between India and China was going through a “particularly bad patch”.

“I don’t think the Chinese have any doubt on where we stand on our relationship and what’s not gone right with it," India's EAM declared.

Jaishankar said China had "taken a set of actions in violation of agreements" and they "still don’t have a credible explanation and that indicates some rethink about where they want to take our relationship."


Eastern Ladakh

India and China are now set to start the fourteenth round of commander level talks in the second half of December.

The Hot Springs issue is on top of the agenda including the troop deployment by the Chinese side including other issues.

Indian officials have been pushing for a concrete resolution although China's stand still remains unclear despite disengagement announced in February.

India and China were earlier involved in a 73-day standoff in 2017 at Doklam, however, in the past one and half years in eastern Ladakh the stakes have been high with both sides deploying heavy artillery in the area. 

A successful de-escalation along eastern Ladakh still hasn't materialised so far despite China's assurances in February this year.