China has withdrawn troops by at least a kilometer in three places in Ladakh including the tense Galwan river valley where 20 soldiers were killed in action in a deadly brawl with Chinese troops on June 15, sources said on Monday. Indian soldiers have also pulled back and a buffer zone has been created between the troops of both sides, according to the sources.
“It is the first phase of the disengagement process. Further steps will be taken after the next round of military level talks,” said the sources.
The Chinese are no longer on Indian Territory in Galwan, the sources say; temporary structures built by Chinese soldiers at the illegally occupied site at the river-bend embankment are being removed by both sides, according to the sources.
There are some indicators that China has started de-escalating from the Fingers region in Pangong.
The Chinese military has dismantled tents and structures near the site of the clash and vehicles have been seen withdrawing from the area as well as at Hot Springs and Gogra – two other contested border zones – according to sources.
Reports of the pull-back have emerged three days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise visit to a Ladakh forward post on Friday, where he addressed thousands of troops and asserted, without naming China, that “the age of expansionism is over and expansionist forces have either lost or were forced to turn back.”
On Sunday, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke on the phone for two hours and, according to an official statement, had a “frank and in-depth exchange of views on the recent developments in the Western Sector of the India-China border areas”.
Mr Doval and the Chinese minister agreed that “it was necessary to ensure at the earliest complete disengagement of the troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and de-escalation from India-China border areas for full restoration of peace and tranquility”. They also discussed completing disengagement along the LAC expeditiously and “a phased and stepwise de-escalation” in the border areas.
“They reaffirmed that both sides should strictly respect and observe the line of actual control and should not take any unilateral action to alter the status quo and work together to avoid any incident in the future that could disturb peace and tranquility in border areas,” said the government statement. This part was not included in Beijing’s official note on the conversation.
China said front-line troops are taking “effective measures” and making “progress” to disengage and ease the tensions in the Galwan Valley. “China and India have made progress coming up with effective measures for frontline troops to disengage and de-escalate the border situation at the third commander-level talks between the two militaries on June 30,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said.
The third round of talks between the commanders of the Indian and Chinese armies on June 30 went on for 12 hours. A period of two weeks was given for the process of de-escalation during the talks. So the physical withdrawal of the Chinese to their side needs to be completed by approximately July 14. Subsequent military talks will only take place after that, said sources.
Recent satellite images had shown multiple Chinese intrusions across the LAC and the deployment of heavy weaponry and Chinese construction activity. The images had indicated that the Chinese had illegally occupied 423 metres of Indian territory in the Galwan Valley. Images acquired by NDTV from Planet Labs showed a significant consolidation of Chinese forces in Ladakh’s Pangong Lake region where Indian soldiers are being stopped from patrolling after violent skirmishes in May in which dozens of Indian soldiers are believed to have been injured.