India announces deal to end Himalayan military standoff with China

India announces deal to end Himalayan military standoff with China
Above, a satellite photo taken on Nov. 1, 2020 shows a newly constructed Chinese village in an area along the disputed India-China border. (Planet Labs via AFP)
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Updated 12 February 2021

India announces deal to end Himalayan military standoff with China

India announces deal to end Himalayan military standoff with China
  • India looks to restore status quo ante as China promises ‘synchronized’ troop disengagement
  • At least 20 Indian soldiers were killed during a clash in June with Chinese troops

NEW DELHI: India and China have agreed to remove troops from a disputed border area in the western Himalayas to end a tense military standoff that has dragged on for months.

Indian Minister of Defense Rajnath Singh on Thursday said the two sides had reached an agreement after protracted negotiations over the simmering decades-old territorial dispute.

Tensions had been running high since April, when New Delhi and Beijing accused each other of provocation and trespass at Pangong Tso Lake in the Ladakh region and in June, at least 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a clash with Chinese troops.

As military buildups continued on both sides of the border, relations between India and China soured with New Delhi downscaling economic engagements with its northern neighbor.

“Our sustained talks with China have led to agreement on disengagement on the north and south banks of Pangong Lake,” Singh told parliament, referring to several rounds of discussions with Beijing in the past few months.

India’s announcement came a day after Beijing said it was starting “synchronized and organized disengagement.”

Singh said: “India and China will remove forward deployments in a phased, coordinated manner. I want to assure this house that in these talks we have not conceded anything.”

Srikanth Kondapalli, professor of Chinese studies at New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University, told Arab News: “We have to welcome the announcement because we were in a position of eyeball to eyeball.

“It was inhuman on the parts of both China and India to mobilize 100,000 troops in this harsh winter. So, it is good for both the soldiers and the country.

“It was the Chinese who first announced the disengagement process, not India. India is not conceding anything. The defense minister said that the disengagement would mean the same position as prevailed in 2020,” he said.

However, Kondapalli added: “We have to be guarded whether the Chinese implement the agreement or not. We had so many agreements, but they did not implement them last year.

“The trust level is low between both the nations, that’s why the Indian defense minister talked about mutually verifiable agreement.”

Manoj Kewalramani, a Chinese studies fellow at Bangalore-based think tank the Takshashila Institution, told Arab News: “It is important to remember that this is a small, first step in what will be a long process if status quo ante and then peace and tranquility are to be restored.

“The current disengagement covers only the north and the south banks of the Pangong Lake. There are, of course, other friction points that remain to be discussed going ahead,” he said.

One of the most difficult tasks would be restoring trust between the two big and nuclear-armed neighbors.

Since India and China fought a war in 1962, they have been unable to agree on their 3,500-kilometer-long de facto border known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

Kewalramani added: “I think India and China are likely to be locked into a competitive dynamic for the foreseeable future.

“If Beijing wishes to rebuild trust, it must restore status quo ante on the boundary, work toward clarification of the LAC, and display a genuine appreciation of India’s aspirations.”