“The Chinese and Indian frontline troops at the southern and northern bank of the Pangong Tso Lake started synchronized and organized disengagement from 10 February,” China’s defence ministry spokesman senior colonel Wu Qian said.
“This move is in accordance with the consensus reached by both sides at the 9th round of China-India corps commander level meeting,” Wu said in a written statement put up on the ministry website.
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In New Delhi, there was no official reaction to the Chinese claim, although defence minister Rajnath Singh was due to make a statement on Thursday.
Tensions have been running high between India and China for nine months since India first detected Chinese intrusions into its territory in May. India quickly mobilized troops to match the Chinese deployment that Singh said had started in April last year.
Last month, foreign minister S. Jaishankar warned ties were “truly at a crossroads” and that “choices that are made will have profound repercussions, not just for the two nations but for the entire world”.
Over the weekend, Jaishankar acknowledged some progress in dialogue but added that this had not eased the situation.
Two people familiar with the matter on Wednesday said India was moving out some armoured components, accompanied by some “thinning out of troops” from the rear on the Indian side.
“We continue to hold strategic heights. Frontline troops are not disengaging at the moment. It is still early days,” one of the people cited above said, declining to confirm if the development could be described as “disengagement”.
“It’s a multi-step process, and there will be verification at each stage,” the person said.
News of the pullback came after the closure of markets and analysts predicted a possible rally on Thursday.
“This is a welcome development from the economy and the market’s perspective, though not a major one. However, this pullback needs to be sustained, and hostilities should not resume,” said Deepak Jasani, retail-research head, HDFC Securities.
Markets have more than doubled since the crash last March. With an inflow $5 billion from foreign institutional investors into Indian equities, the benchmark Nifty has jumped over 8%, one of the best performers among Asian markets in 2021.
According to strategic analysts, India’s cautious response is understandable, given the tense situation on the ground.
“We will not judge the Chinese by their words, we will judge them by their actions,” said former Indian ambassador to China Gautam Bambawale.
Even if there is disengagement of troops, “the trust deficit between both sides will not be bridged, considering that the Chinese have gone back on almost all the agreements they have signed in decades to stabilize the border,” said the second person cited above.
According to Srikanth Kondapalli, professor of Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, the Chinese statement focuses only on Pangong Tso area, which is one of many seen as disputed in the current standoff. There was also Galwan, where a fatal clash took place in June, he said. Other areas include Gogra Post and Depsang Plains where Chinese are thought to be inside Indian territory.
What was announced on Wednesday could be seen as a “quid pro quo”, he said. Under the deal, China could be pulling out of its position along the northern bank where it had occupied positions that were previously seen as lying within India. India could pull out of the southern bank where in a pre-emptive move in August, India took control of five peaks, including one overlooking Chinese positions across the LAC in Moldo. “But then what happens to the others areas—Depsang plains, Gogra and Galwan —where Chinese intrusions have happened,” Kondapalli asked. “We need to wait and see what India says in its statement.”
Nasrin Sultana contributed to this story.