India, China talks to ease border tensions end inconclusively again

Military commanders of India and China sat down for another round of talks on Sunday aimed at defusing heightened tensions along the south bank of Pangong Tso, which erupted after the Indian Army pre-empted intrusions by Chinese troops on 29-31 August.

The brigade commander-level talks on Sunday were the seventh in a row of discussions that started last Monday following Beijing’s bid to open a new front in the current military face-off with India.

However, like it happened over the past week, the talks on Sunday also ended “inconclusively”, a person familiar with the matter said.

The talks came two days after Indian and Chinese defence ministers, Rajnath Singh and Wei Fenghe, met in Moscow on the sidelines of a regional conference of defence ministers. That was the first face-to-face meeting at the political level between the two countries since tensions sparked in May after India detected intrusions by soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army of China at multiple locations along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Ladakh in May. This included an intrusion along the north bank of Pangong Tso along the Finger area, a series of eight mountain folds jutting into the lake. Tensions between the two countries peaked following a clash at Galwan in mid-June in which 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number of Chinese military personnel were killed.

Many rounds of talks at the military and diplomatic levels have not been able to achieve a breakthrough on disengagement and de-escalation, stalled since mid-July after some initial steps.

With the Singh-Wei meeting on Friday not yielding an obvious way forward, all eyes are on a meeting this week between Indian foreign minister S. Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, again in Moscow this week.

Officials in New Delhi were not willing to hazard a guess about the outcome of the talks on Sunday. One official pointed to both the Indian and Chinese statements issued separately after Friday’s discussions talking of keeping the channels of communication open.

The official also said that the Singh-Wei talks had been requested by the Chinese side, which analysts such as Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of Chinese Studies at the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University, saw as a possible sign that Beijing could be looking for a compromise. Given that China had challenges on the India border, besides the South China Sea, the Taiwan Straits and on the Senkaku Islands with Japan, “there could be a window of opportunity for a compromise,” Kondapalli said. “But that process would need to be initiated by China,” he said.

So far, militarily, New Delhi was prepared for the “long haul”, which involves ensuring troops supported by the Indian Air Force staying put along its border with China not only in Ladakh but in the east in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, according to two people familiar with the matter.

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