LAC standoff | India, China agree on 5-point plan for resolving border tension :

After a two-and-a-half-hour-long meeting that went into the night in Moscow, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said they had agreed on a five-point course of action to de-escalate the four-month-long standoff between troops at the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

“The two Foreign Ministers agreed that the current situation in the border areas is not in the interests 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 after the first face-to-face meeting between the two ministers since the standoff.

The five-point plan includes abiding by the consensus between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping to “not allow differences to become disputes”, quick disengagement to ease tensions, abiding by existing India-China border protocols and avoiding escalatory action, continuing dialogue between the Special Representatives NSA Ajit Doval and Mr. Wang as well as the other mechanisms, and finally, to work towards new confidence-building measures.

The five points agreed to are a template for the “principles of disengagement”, said a senior official privy to the meeting, but large divergences still remain in the positions taken by both sides. It is understood that the military commanders’ meeting in the next few days will chalk out steps of disengagement more clearly, which the Foreign Ministers will review before deciding on the course ahead.

‘Serious situation’
India has maintained that the large mobilisation of troops by the PLA has led to a very serious and dangerous situation at the LAC, while initially during the meeting, the Chinese side sought to deny any sense of crisis, holding that the two sides should “move on” from the current standoff peacefully. Mr. Jaishankar, however, conveyed India’s “strong concern” that the mobilisation of troops and equipment, quite close to the LAC is the immediate issue, and a full resolution required troops moving back to their “permanent posts”.

Other divergences persisted. A document released by the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that the “Indian side does not consider the relations to be dependent on the settlement of the boundary question”. This is in sharp contrast to what Mr. Jaishankar said at the meeting and has repeated publicly, asserting that the status of bilateral ties cannot be delinked from the situation at the LAC. Neither did Mr. Jaishankar say, as the Chinese note claims, that “the Indian side believes that China’s policy towards India has not changed.” In fact, sources said, India feels China has yet to “provide a credible explanation for this deployment” and for its “provocative behaviour”.

Troop positions
While border commanders have been in contact on disengagement procedures since June and have made little headway thus far, the government feels that they now have concrete proposals and commitments from the Chinese Foreign Minister, who is also the State Councillor, that these will now be adhered to by the Chinese side, unlike in the past few months. Neither side specifically mentioned a return to “status quo ante” or positions in April, but sources said India spoke of ensuring troops were deployed at “permanent posts” 25-30 km apart, not right at the LAC as they are presently.

“The immediate task is to ensure a comprehensive disengagement of troops in all the friction areas. That is necessary to prevent any untoward incident in the future. The final disposition of the troop deployment to their permanent posts and the phasing of the process is to be worked out by the military commanders,” government sources said.

The statement issued by China’s Foreign Ministry on Friday quoted Mr. Wang as saying the relationship was “at a 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,” he said.

His quoted remarks were a contrast from recent statements from China, including following the September 4 meeting between the Defence Ministers in Moscow. He did not blame India for the recent crisis, which has been a point of emphasis in several Chinese statements from the Foreign Ministry and PLA in recent weeks.

The statement said Mr. Wang did outline “China’s stern position” on the situation in the border areas, “emphasising that the imperative is to immediately stop provocations such as firing and other dangerous actions that violate the commitments made by the two sides.”

He said it was “normal for China and India to have differences as two neighbouring major countries” and added that “what is important is to put these differences in a proper context vis-a-vis bilateral relations.” “As two large developing countries emerging rapidly, what China and India need right now is cooperation, not confrontation; and mutual trust, not suspicion.”

The meeting between the Foreign Ministers in Moscow was facilitated and encouraged by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who hosted them at the SCO meeting. Later, a Russia-India-China lunch set the stage for the bilateral talks on Thursday. It is expected to be followed by talks of the Special Representatives and another meeting of the Working Mechanism on Consultation and Coordination on India-China border affairs.

In November, Mr. Modi and Mr. Xi are expected to attend the G-20 summit in Saudi Arabia, which will be the first time the two leaders, who have not yet spoken to each other during the standoff, could meet.

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