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The Disengagement Quagmire

After Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi agreed to complete disengagement in September 2020, China has continued to dither disengaging from Gogra, Hot Springs and Depsang

July 19, 2021 By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd) Photo(s): By Dr S Jaishankar, PRO Shillong / Twitter
The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army



External Affairs Minister (EAM) S. Jaishankar had a one-hour meeting with his Chinese Counterpart Wang Yi on sidelines of the SCO Foreign Ministers Meet at Dushanbe, Tajikistan on July 14, 2021. The meeting being closed door, what exactly transpired between the two foreign ministers is not known. However, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) issued a press release, highlights of which are:

  • Both ministers exchanged views on the current situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh and also the overall India-China relations.
  • EAM emphasised need to follow through on the agreement reached during their last meeting in Moscow in September 2020 and complete the disengagement. Disengagement in the Pangong Lake Area had created conditions for resolving remaining issues but situation in remaining areas is still unresolved though both sides had agreed prolonging existing situation was not in interest of both sided.
  • EAM said attempts to change status quo last year that also disregarded commitments under the 1993 and 1996 agreements have inevitably affected ties.
  • Both ministers agreed to hold another round of Meeting of Senior Military Commanders at the earliest as agreed in the last WMCC (Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination) on June 25, 2021 to discuss all remaining issues and seek a mutually acceptable solution.
  • Both sides will continue to ensure stability on ground and neither side will take any unilateral action that could increase tension.
  • Both ministers agreed to remain in touch.

Following the meeting with Wang Yi, Jaishankar tweeted on July 14: "Concluded a one-hour bilateral meeting with State Councilor and FM Wang Yi of China on the sidelines of Dushanbe SCO Foreign Ministers Meeting. Discussions focused on the outstanding issues along the LAC in the Western Sector."

It is ironic that for some inexplicable reasons India has not even taken up that Depsang must be included in the next round of military-level talks in addition to Gogra and Hot Springs

More than three months after senior military commanders of India and China met to defuse the standoff along the LAC on April 9, 2021, news reports of July 13, 2021, revealed that dates for a fresh round of talks are being firmed up while the agenda for the talks has been exchanged. The WMCC meeting held on the Indian side on June 25 reportedly discussed holding talks on disengagement and de-escalation of troops, weapons and equipment from Gogra and Hot Springs. Since June 2020, both sides have conducted 11 rounds of talks at Lieutenant General-level.

Disengagement process between Indian Army & PLA troops.

However, media reports quoting an official (MEA or MoD?) of June 6, 2021, stated, "PLA is communicating that LAC disengagement in Pangong Tso has been completed as per objective of the leadership of two countries. They want the Gogra and Hot Springs disengagement to be resolved at a level of local commanders and not convene a special meeting. This clearly indicates that the Chinese want to drag the disengagement around Kongka La into tedious conversations of local commanders rather than look at the big picture of bilateral relationship."

It is more than proved that after Wang Yi agreed to complete disengagement during his meeting with EAM Jaishankar in Moscow during September 2020, China double crossed India after the disengaging from both banks of Pangong Lake, especially after Indian troops vacated all heights on the Kailash Range (all within Indian Territory) giving up its strategic advantage.

The present situation in the standoff area is as under:

  • Along North Bank of Pangong Lake, PLA has moved from atop the India post at Finger 4 to east of Finger 8 while India has moved from Finger 4 to between Fingers 2 and 3 (Dhan Singh Thapa Post), leaving a 10-km no-patrol zone with a metal road on the Chinese side leading up to Finger 4.
  • In Gogra and Hot Spring areas PLA is lodged on the Indian side of the LAC.
  • In Depsang area, our patrols cannot even approach Patrol Points 10, 11, 11A, 12 and 13 that were established 'short' of the LAC, as recommended by the China Study Group and approved by the CCS years back, China having established structure and surveillance equipment at Y Junction which is 20 km inside India.

It is ironic that for some inexplicable reasons (lack of guts?) India has not even taken up that Depsang must be included in the next round of military-level talks in addition to Gogra and Hot Springs; PLA intrusions at Gogra, Hot Springs and Depsang having already violated the mutual agreements reached in 1993 and 1995.

China is obviously playing India with little intention to disengage further from the intrusion areas – terming them "friction points" being euphuism for public consumption at home

Recent news reports of July 13, 2021 quoting security officials reveal that China has now erected concrete watchtowers with CCTV cameras"inside India-claimed lines" in Ladakh to monitor Indian troop deployment. According to an official of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), "The watchtowers and posts erected by the Chinese overlook areas held by the Indian Army. It's a matter of extreme concern." An Intelligence Bureau official says, "The Indian patrols at these friction points are outnumbered by the Chinese. In a tit for tat, the Indian Army too is erecting poles fitted out with digital cameras to monitor Chinese movements inside their occupied zones."


China is obviously playing India with little intention to disengage further from the intrusion areas – terming them "friction points" being euphuism for public consumption at home. India's pusillanimous attitude has also contributed to the current situation in Eastern Ladakh. India is yet to officially name China the aggressor for last year's aggression. On the contrary, China has branded India aggressor from day one cashing on na´ve statements by our lawmakers that we too keep going across the LAC.

Under the circumstances, PLA will unlikely withdraw from Gogra, Hot Springs and Depsang. If at all they do agree, they will ask for large "buffer zones" by asking Indian troops to withdraw further west ceding more territory. Our official line that disengagement talks are continuing is correct but the fact remains these can carry on till eternity every time PLA intrudes into our territory, as it is happening now.

It is time we acknowledge that China cannot be our friend especially since Beijing is not interested to resolve the border issue. Our political leadership needs to develop the spunk to confront China.