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China envoy pushes Pangong claim, India says pullback not over

Pushing his country’s claim to Pangong Tso where Chinese troops came in 8 km west of the point which India says marks the Line of Actual Control, Sun Weidong, Beijing’s ambassador to New Delhi, Thursday said “China’s traditional customary boundary line is in accordance with the LAC” on the north bank of the lake.

He rejected suggestions that China has expanded its territorial claim at Pangong Tso.

The ambassador made these remarks ahead of the fifth round of talks between Corps Commanders of the two armies, expected to take place in the next few days.

Speaking at a webinar organised by the Institute of Chinese Studies, Sun said that on the north bank of Pangong lake, “China’s traditional customary boundary line is in accordance with the LAC. And there’s no such case as China has expanded its territorial claim. China hopes that the Indian troops will strictly abide by the relevant bilateral agreements and protocols between the two countries and refrain from illegally crossing the LAC to the Chinese side”.

“With the joint efforts of both sides, the border troops have disengaged in most localities, the situation on the ground is de-escalating and the temperature is coming down,” he said.

Responding to the ambassador’s remarks, New Delhi said there has been “some progress” but the process of disengagement has not yet been completed.

Anurag Srivastava, official spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, said, “There has been some progress made towards this objective, but the disengagement process has as yet not been completed.” He said senior commanders of the two sides will be meeting in the “near future” to work out steps in this regard.

Maintenance of peace and tranquility in the border areas, Srivastava said, is the basis of the bilateral relationship. “Therefore, we expect that the Chinese side will sincerely work with us for complete disengagement and de-escalation and full restoration of peace and tranquility in the border areas at the earliest as agreed to by the Special Representatives,” he said.

The Chinese reluctance to step back from Pangong Tso, where its troops continue to occupy the ridgeline at Finger 4, has stalled the disengagement process and is likely to be the focus of talks between the Corps Commanders. The military standoff began early May after Chinese and Indian troops came to blows on the north bank of the lake.

The Chinese ambassador, in his speech, said, “China is not a strategic threat to India”, and cautioned against “forced de-coupling” of the relationship.

“China advocates win-win cooperation and opposes zero-sum games. Our economies are highly complementary, interwoven and interdependent. Forced decoupling is against the trend and will only lead to a ‘lose-lose’ outcome,” Sun said.

He also cautioned against Indian public opinion urging the government in New Delhi to adjust its position on Taiwan, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and South China Sea.

Underlining that “this worries me”, Sun said, “Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Xizang affairs are totally China’s internal affairs and bear on China’s sovereignty and security. While China doesn’t interfere in other country’s internal affairs, it allows no external interference and never trades its core interests either.”

Asked about Chinese troops crossing the LAC in the Galwan Valley, he maintained that the right and wrong of the Galwan Valley incident is “very clear”. “And I must make it very clear that the responsibility is not on the Chinese side,” he said.

Since April this year, he said, “Indian frontline troops were making roads and bridges and infrastructures like that along the Galwan Valley. And this led to representations from the Chinese side through military and diplomatic channels.”

“And after these representations, the Indian side agreed to withdraw its people and dismantle the infrastructure, which was across the LAC. And there was a meeting between the corps commanders on June 6,” he said.

“And the Indian side committed that they will not go … across the water mouth of Galwan Valley to patrol, or to raise any infrastructure. But unfortunately, on the evening of 15th of June, the Indian frontline troops broke this consensus that was reached by the corps commanders meeting. And they went across the LAC again. They even violently attacked the Chinese soldiers who are coming to make representations. And that led to a very harsh clash, physical clash between the two sides, and that led to casualties,” he said.

Asked about casualties on the Chinese side, he said the incident was unfortunate and “interpretations” about numbers were “not helpful”.

On the delay over the clarification of the LAC, Sun said, “the original purpose for clarification of LAC is to maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas. However, if one side unilaterally delineates the LAC, as per its own understanding, during negotiations that could create some new disputes”. “And that will be a departure from the original purpose for clarification of LAC. So, we hope that the Indian side could work with the Chinese in the same direction and continue to push forward negotiations for settlement of settlement framework, in accordance with the political parameters or guiding principles for settlement of China-India boundary questions,” he said.

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