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India, China reach a five-point consensus to de-escalate tensions in eastern Ladakh, to ‘quickly disengage’ troops

India and China have reached a five-point consensus to resolve the four-month-long military standoff in eastern Ladakh agreeing to “quickly disengage” troops, avoid any action that could escalate tensions and take steps to restore peace and tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The agreement in which the two countries said the current situation in the border areas is not in the interest of either side was finalised during the “frank and constructive” talks between External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Moscow on Thursday evening. The talks on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meet lasted two-and-a-half-hours.

The consensus came days after a fresh confrontation between the armies of the two countries in eastern Ladakh on Monday that further escalated the standoff which erupted in May and triggered a massive military build up by both sides in almost all friction points along the LAC, the de-facto border between the two countries.

Indian government sources said the five-point agreement will guide the approach of the two countries in tackling the current border situation which has remained volatile and tense.

“The two foreign ministers agreed that the current situation in the border areas is not in the interest of either side. They agreed therefore that the border troops of both sides should continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions,” said a joint press statement issued by India’s Ministry of External Affairs(MEA) in the early hours of Friday.

However, there is no mention of any timeline in the statement for disengagement and restoration of peace and tranquillity. India has been consistently maintaining that China should restore status quo ante of April in eastern Ladakh.

The joint statement said Jaishankar and Wang agreed that both sides shall abide by all the existing agreements and protocol on China-India boundary affairs, maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas and avoid any action that could escalate matters.

Significantly, the statement said the ministers agreed that as the situation eases, the two sides should expedite work to conclude “new confidence building measures” to maintain and enhance peace and tranquillity in the border areas.

At the talks, the Indian delegation highlighted its strong concern over massing of troops and military equipment by China along the LAC besides referring to “provocative behaviour” by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army(PLA) personnel at numerous incidents of friction, Indian government sources said.

They said the Chinese side could not provide a credible explanation for the troops buildup.

The Indian side insisted that the immediate task is to ensure a comprehensive disengagement of troops in all the friction areas and that it is necessary to prevent any untoward incident in the future, the sources said.

Jaishankar also told Wang that maintenance of peace and tranquillity on the border areas was essential to the forward development of ties, the sources added.

He conveyed to his Chinese counterpart that the recent incidents in eastern Ladakh, however, inevitably impacted the development of the bilateral relationship.

The sources said the Indian side clearly conveyed during the talks that it expected full adherence to all agreements on management of border areas and would not countenance any attempt to change the status quo unilaterally.

“It was also emphasized that the Indian troops had scrupulously followed all agreements and protocols pertaining to the management of the border areas,” said a source.

The joint statement also said Jaishankar and Wang agreed that both sides should take guidance from the series of consensus reached between leaders of the two countries on developing India-China relations, including not allowing differences to become disputes.

It was clear that the reference was to the broad decision taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the talks following the Doklam episode of 2017.

“The two sides also agreed to continue to have dialogue and communication through the Special Representative mechanism on the India-China boundary question,” the joint statement said.

“They also agreed in this context that the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China border affairs (WMCC), should also continue its meetings,” it said. Foreign Minister Wang and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval are special representatives for the boundary talks.

The Indian Army and the PLA have been locked in a tense standoff in multiple areas along the LAC in eastern Ladakh since early May. Shots were fired across the LAC on Monday for the first time in 45 years with the two sides accusing each other of firing in the air.

A press release issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing quoted Wang as having told Jaishankar that it is normal for both the countries to have differences but it is important to put them in proper context and take the guidance of the leaders.

“Wang noted that it is normal for China and India to have differences as two neighbouring major countries. What is important is to put these differences in a proper context vis-a-vis bilateral relations”, the release said.

Wang stressed that as two large developing countries are emerging rapidly, what China and India need right now is cooperation, not confrontation; and mutual trust, not suspicion, the release added.

“Whenever the situation gets difficult, it is all the more important to ensure the stability of the overall relationship and preserve mutual trust”, Wang said.

“China-India relations have once again come to crossroads. But as long as the two sides keep moving the relationship in the right direction, there will be no difficulty or challenge that can’t be overcome,” Wang added.

It is also important to move back all personnel and equipment that have trespassed. The frontier troops must quickly disengage so that the situation may de-escalate , he said.

The Chinese side is willing to support enhanced dialogue between the frontier troops on both sides to resolve specific issues. The Chinese side will stay in touch with the Indian side through diplomatic and military channels and be committed to restoring peace and tranquility in the border areas.”

The meeting between Jaishankar and Wang was the second highest political contact between the two countries in a week. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his Chinese counterpart Gen. Wei Fenghe had also met in Moscow on September 4 on the sidelines of another SCO meet.

In Delhi, Singh and the country’s top military brass deliberated on the five-point agreement, government sources said.

National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Bipin Rawat, Army Chief Gen. MM Naravane, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria and Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh were among others who were present, they said.

The armies of India and China are expected to hold a fresh round of Corps commander-level talks early next week with a focus on implementing certain provisions of the five-point agreement, the sources said.

The sources said the Indian Army will keenly observe Chinese military’s overall approach along the LAC in eastern Ladakh to make an assessment of their seriousness in easing tension as agreed in Jaishankar-Wang talks.

It is also learnt that Gen. Naravane deliberated on the overall situation in Ladakh as well as on the provisions of agreement with top military officials in the Army headquarters.

In Chushul, another round of Brigade commander-level talks also took place for around four hours from 11 AM on Friday with a focus on bringing down tensions at the face-off sites.

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