Indian and Chinese brigade commanders met for the third consecutive day Wednesday after Indian troops, thwarting Chinese moves in the Chushul sector, occupied dominating heights on the south bank of Pangong Tso and Rechin La near Rezang La.
Troops also moved to strengthen positions at Finger 3 on the Pangong north bank, occupying heights west of Finger 4 where the Chinese continue to occupy the ridgeline after coming in 8 km from Finger 8 which India says marks the Line of Actual Control.
These Indian moves, sources said, will help in military and diplomatic talks with the Chinese to resolve the border crisis which began early May. The talks have not made much headway since mid-July because of Chinese reluctance to complete the disengagement process at Pangong Tso north bank and Gogra Post. India has been seeking status quo ante — of troops on both sides returning to their April locations.
A senior Army officer said Wednesday that as tensions mounted on the Pangong south bank, Indian troops moved quickly on the intervening night of August 29 and August 30 and took over vacant heights to prevent Chinese troops from taking any vantage position. On the north bank too, the Army readjusted its positions, the officer said.
Since the Chinese are still on the Finger 4 ridgeline, Indian troops occupied heights on the Finger 3 ridgeline, and strengthened deployment west of Finger 4.
“As part of the precautionary deployment carried out on August 30, some readjustments of our positions on the north bank of Pangong Tso on our side of the LAC has also been carried out,” the officer said
As part of the disengagement in mid-July, troops on both sides stepped back on the north bank. The Chinese vacated the Finger 4 base and headed to Finger 5 while the Indians stepped back to the Finger 3 base. But the Chinese refused to vacate the Finger 4 ridgeline. To “neutralise” that advantage, India has now occupied other heights to the west.
On the south bank and Rechin La, Indian occupation of the heights gives troops a commanding view of the Spanggur Gap and China’s Moldo sector. The Spanggur Gap, a 2-km wide pass, is on the Chushul approach, the terrain suitable for offensive military action — as was done by China in the 1962 war. By positioning itself on tactically advantageous features, the Indian Army hopes to dominate the sector and force completion of the disengagement process.
In the talks, what is evident now is the trust deficit given the Chinese intransigence, especially since mid-July.
While the initial disengagement took place “quite smoothly” in the 10-15 days after the July 5 conversation between NSA Ajit Doval and Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi, the Indian side noticed towards the second half of July that diplomatic and military-level communication had gone cold.
Phone calls were not returned immediately, meetings were not scheduled within a reasonable time frame, and the turnaround time for responses to India’s note verbale to Chinese counterparts was slower. This raised alarm bells in South Block — something was amiss in Beijing’s behaviour.
The Indians upped surveillance all along the LAC, especially at the gaps where the terrain allows the Chinese to move in quickly. In eastern Ladakh, there are a dozen such gaps and some are on the south bank of Pangong Tso.
The frostiness has increased after the latest incidents, and New Delhi believes that its four-pronged approach has worked well and saved the day on August 29-31 when Chinese troops tried to move forward on the south bank.
While an attempt was made by the Chinese near Black Top or “Kala Top”, Indian troops spotted it because of one of the key pillars of its four-pronged approach — “sustained surveillance and reconnaissance” of friction points.
Upon seeing movement of vehicles and troops through surveillance equipment, Indian troops raced to the ridgeline and captured the dominating positions. The Chinese troops were then asked to back off – commanders used battery-operated public-address systems.
According to Indian officials, India’s perception of the LAC runs from the LAC Point to Point 5167 to Black Top to Magar Hill and then to Rezang La and Rechin La. The LAC runs from north to south in almost a straight line, except a bend after Point 5167 where Black Top is located.
But what makes the situation volatile is that the troops are armed and within firing range of each other. There’s armour too with both sides bringing in tanks and other heavy equipment.
With this counter-manoeuvre, the Indian side now has a dominating position on the south bank, and has “legitimate reason” to stay put on the height because the Chinese troops attempted forward movement.
Sources said this can come in handy to force the Chinese to come to the negotiating table, as it feels aggrieved with Indian dominance of the ridgeline on the south bank.
“Just like they dominated the positions on the northern bank, between Fingers 4 and 8, our troops have a dominating position on the southern bank,” a source said.
On Wednesday, China said “the responsibility lies entirely with the Indian side” for the LAC tensions. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing: “You just said that the Indian side pre-empted China’s action. In China, we have a saying about a guilty mind protesting conspicuously he’s innocent. That is what India did. It shows that the Indian troops illegally crossed the line in provocation and unilaterally changed the status quo and broke the two sides’ agreement and consensus.”