India on Friday nudged China to complete the disengagement of troops at remaining friction points along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh sector, saying this alone can set the stage for restoring normalcy in bilateral ties.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava reiterated the message conveyed by foreign minister S Jaishankar to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in a phone conversation on February 25, and emphasised the need for further talks through diplomatic and military channels to take forward the disengagement process.
In Beijing, Indian ambassador Vikram Misri conveyed the same message during a meeting with vice foreign minister Luo Zhaohui, the Chinese foreign ministry’s pointperson for South Asia, according to tweets from the Indian embassy.
After an agreement last month on pulling back frontline troops along with armoured vehicles and artillery from strategic heights around Pangong Lake, the two sides have been unable to make progress on disengagement at other friction points such as Depsang, Hot Springs and Gogra.
Though the foreign ministers agreed during their phone conversation on setting up a hotline to improve timely communications, differences remained on addressing the border standoff. Wang suggested the two sides should set aside the border issue, while Jaishankar insisted bilateral ties can be repaired only by completing disengagement at all friction points.
“It is, therefore, our expectation that the Chinese side will work with us, both through the WMCC [Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination] and the senior [military] commanders’ meetings to ensure that disengagement in the remaining areas is completed at the earliest,” Srivastava told a regular news briefing.
“This would allow both sides to consider de-escalation of forces in eastern Ladakh as that alone will lead to the restoration of peace and tranquillity and provide conditions for progress in our bilateral relationship,” he said.
Indian ambassador Misri told Luo, who has served as China’s envoy to New Delhi and Islamabad and is considered an old India hand, that “maintaining peace & tranquillity in border areas had always been the basis for development of bilateral relations”, the Indian embassy tweeted.
“Emphasizing the importance of completing disengagement in the remaining areas, Ambassador @VikramMisri noted that this would help restore peace and tranquillity and provide conditions for progress in relations,” it said in another tweet.
Misri also “flagged outstanding consular issues pertaining to Indian nationals and requested [the Chinese foreign ministry’s] facilitation in seeking a resolution”, the Indian mission said without giving details.
The consular issues are believed to include problems faced by more than 22,000 Indian students in resuming studies at Chinese institutions due to Covid-19-related restrictions. A majority of these students are enrolled in medical universities across China and have been unable to return after flying to India in 2020. They have petitioned both governments to coordinate their return so that they can complete their courses.
Srivastava pointed out Jaishankar had told Wang during last week’s phone conversation that following the completion of disengagement in Pangong Lake area, “the two sides should now move quickly to resolve the remaining issues along the LAC in eastern Ladakh”.
Details for establishing the hotline between the two foreign ministers will be worked out through diplomatic channels, he added.
Senior military commanders, at their last meeting on February 20, had noted that the disengagement at Pangong Lake was a “significant step forward and it provided a good basis for the resolution of other remaining issues along the LAC in the western sector”, Srivastava said.
The commanders also had a detailed exchange of views on the remaining issues at their last meeting.
Srivastava noted that Jaishankar had pointed out to the Chinese foreign minister that “both sides have always agreed that maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the border area was an essential basis for the development of bilateral relations”.
He added, “A prolongation of the existing situation was not in the interest of either side.”