Top army commanders on Thursday informed defence minister Rajnath Singh of China’s repeated refusal to disengage from India-claimed lines at the friction points in Ladakh, sources in the ministry said.
The defence minister was apprised of China’s rebuff during a meeting in which Singh reviewed the prevailing security situation along the Line of Actual Control, the sources added.
Singh on Thursday inaugurated a revamped war memorial in eastern Ladakh’s Rezang La, the site of an epic battle at an altitude of 18,000 feet above sea level where a company of 13 Kumaon regiment led by Major Shaitan Singh had held back the Chinese People’s Liberation Army during the 1962 war. The company fought to its last bullet to defend its positions at the mountain pass.
“The minister held a closed-door meeting with the commanders of the army’s northern command. The commanders informed Singh of the Chinese refusal to retreat from the occupied zones in Depsang Plains and Hot Springs,” a defence ministry official told The Telegraph.
India and China have been locked in border disputes at multiple points in eastern Ladakh since May last year. The Chinese army is said to have altered the unmarked LAC in these areas and is estimated to have taken over close to 1,000sqkm of India-claimed territory.
The meeting, the official said, continued for over an hour during which the commanders made a PowerPoint presentation and explained to the defence minister about the massive Chinese build-up at the remaining friction points inside India-claimed lines.
“During the presentation, the commanders showed how the Chinese army is reported to have strengthened its positions at the friction points by building airbases and military camps,” he said.
Another ministry official said Singh told the commanders that India would take up the matter “again with the Chinese army during the next military and diplomatic talks”.
Singh’s visit to Ladakh came after the 13th round of military talks between the Indian and Chinese armies last month. The talks had failed to achieve any breakthrough as the Chinese have not agreed to a proposal to disengage from the India-claimed territory at the remaining friction points along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh.
Sources said the Chinese had been insisting that the remaining occupied zones at the Depsang Plains and Hot Springs belonged to them and asked Indian troops to move further back as a condition for disengagement. This has been rejected by the Indian Army.
The Chinese are entrenched 18km inside India-claimed lines on the strategically crucial Depsang Plains. They have continued to cut off the Indian Army’s access to five traditional patrolling points on the Depsang Plains — PPs 10, 11, 11A, 12 and 13 — since the border standoff began in May 2020.
Four days after a clash at the Galwan Valley killed 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers on June 15 last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asserted that no one had occupied or was occupying Indian territory, allowing Beijing to dismiss allegations of border transgressions.
After inaugurating the revamped war memorial in Rezang La, Singh paid tribute to the fallen heroes and described the monument as an example of the determination and indomitable courage displayed by the Indian Army that he said wad not “only immortal in the pages of history, but also beats in our hearts”.
The minister said the courage and sacrifice of troops who defended Rezang La in 1962 would always inspire future generations.
“The minister also lauded the Indian soldiers, who continue to carry forward the valour and patriotism of the fallen heroes and protect the country fearlessly,” a defence ministry statement said.
Without naming China, Singh said: “We will give a befitting reply to anyone who threatens our sovereignty and integrity.”
“The historic battle of Rezang La, fought at an altitude of 18,000 feet, is difficult to imagine even today. Major Shaitan Singh and his fellow soldiers fought till ‘last bullet and last breath’ and wrote a new chapter of bravery and sacrifice,” he said.
“I am saluting the 114 Indian soldiers who made supreme sacrifices in the 1962 war after reaching Rezang La, located amidst the inaccessible hills of Ladakh,” he added.
The renovated complex includes a double-storey museum, a mini-theatre to screen a special documentary on the battle, a large helipad and other tourist amenities.
The 23rd meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC) was held on Thursday over the remaining friction points in Ladakh.
During the meeting, it was agreed that both sides should hold the next (14th) round of the senior commanders meeting at an early date to achieve the objective of complete disengagement from all the friction points along the LAC in accordance with the existing bilateral agreements and protocols, a statement from India’s foreign ministry said.
The two sides recalled the agreement between external affairs minister and the foreign minister of China during their meeting in September in Dushanbe that military and diplomatic officials of the two sides should continue their discussions to resolve the remaining issues along the LAC in eastern Ladakh.
“Accordingly, the two sides had candid and in-depth discussions on the situation along the LAC in Western Sector of India-China Border Areas and also reviewed the developments since the last meeting of the senior commanders of both sides which was held on 10th October 2021. In this regard they agreed on the need to find an early resolution to the remaining issues along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh while fully abiding by bilateral agreements and protocols so as to restore peace and tranquility,” the statement said.