India-China border talks stall, with both sides blaming each other for breakdown

Militaries of both countries held the 13th round of corps commander negotiations on Oct 10 over disengagement in Ladakh region. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

NEW DELHI - India and China have blamed each other for a breakdown in the latest border talks, in a setback to efforts to negotiate a way out of the worst row in decades that has plunged relations to an all-time low.

Militaries of both countries held the 13th round of corps commander negotiations on Sunday (Oct 10) over disengagement in Ladakh region.

But the meeting ended in finger pointing, with China calling India's demand for disengagement "unreasonable", and India accusing China of blocking its "constructive suggestions" for resolving the issues.

In a statement, India said that "the Chinese side was not agreeable (to India's proposals) and also could not provide any forward looking proposals".

The sharply worded statement, released by the Ministry of External Affairs and the Indian army, noted that the border row "had been caused by unilateral attempts of Chinese side to alter the status quo and in violation of the bilateral agreements".

China, however, maintained that it has "made great efforts" to calm tensions. But India "still stuck to unreasonable and unrealistic demands, which added difficulties to the negotiation," the Chinese statement said.

Both sides did not elaborate on the disagreements.

Clearly mindful of the potential volatility along the border, the Indian statement also said that both sides had agreed to "maintain communication" and "stability on the ground".

As the two countries normally released a joint statement or separate statements after talks in the past that were usually cordial, the finger pointing appears unusual and is a good indicator that the border troubles are far from over.

The row erupted after soldiers on both sides were killed in a violent clash last June in the Galwan Valley, which was largely peaceful previously.

The incident sparked confrontation in other parts along the border, amid a build up of troops and weaponry across the Line of Actual Control, the de facto border between the two countries.

Over the past year, China and India have sought to defuse tensions and successfully disengaged in Galwan Valley, Pangong Tso and Gogra Heights.

India has said that for economic and political ties with China to move ahead, there has to be complete disengagement and de-escalation along the border.

Analysts said the outcome of the latest talks was a setback to border negotiations, as it seemed inevitable that India would have to retain heightened troop numbers through another harsh winter.

"Essentially, we are back to square one. There is no forward momentum as they are not budging and neither are we. What it means is continued stalemate and we will continue to maintain our forces along the border. It is a breakdown of talks," said Professor Srikanth Kondapalli of Jawaharlal Nehru University.

The breakdown comes as Indian Trade Minister Piyush Goyal is set to hold talks with his Chinese counterpart on Tuesday (Oct 12) on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Italy, a government statement said.

Still, others saw in the Indian statement, a resolve not to back down.

"The Himalayas have become the most dangerous flashpoint in the Indo-Pacific. More than 17 months following China's border aggression, India's patience is wearing thin, with China using talks to consolidate its land grabs. For the first time, India calls out China's intransigence," tweeted strategic affairs expert Brahma Chellaney.

Within India, there has been much debate over why the border with China has suddenly turned volatile, particularly at a time when Beijing has far bigger challenges like the United States.

But of particular concern for the Indian army is also the infrastructure that has come up along the border to accommodate the large Chinese troop build-up.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar recently called the large deployment a "major problem", while the Indian army chief, General M. M. Navarane, called it a "matter of concern".

"Yes, it is a matter of concern that the large-scale build-up has occurred and continues to be in place, and to sustain that kind of a build-up, there has been an equal amount of infrastructure development on the Chinese side," the army chief said recently.

"It means that they are there to stay. ... but if they are there to stay, we are there to stay too," he added.

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