Their ties already strained over the two-month Doklam standoff in the east, boat patrols of Indian and Chinese armies clashed on the Pangong lake in Ladakh Tuesday. And for the first time since 2005, the People’s Liberation Army declined the Indian invitation to participate in ceremonial border meetings on the occasion of Independence Day.
The incident at Pangong Tso occurred at 7.30 am near the Finger-6 part of the 135-km long lake, one-third of which is in Indian control and the rest under Chinese control. The standoff led to jostling and exchange of blows between soldiers of the two armies although no shots were fired.
Sources said 52 trucks of the Chinese army were later spotted parked on the road built by the Chinese on the side of the lake but they moved out by the evening. The Indian Army refused to comment on the incident.
As tensions mount over the standoff at the trijunction with Bhutan, the PLA skipped the ceremonial border meetings on Independence Day. This is the first time since 2005 that this meeting on August 15 was not held. Another ceremonial meeting, which used to be held on the Chinese side on August 1, the founding day of the PLA, was also not held this year.
Sources told The Indian Express that the ceremonial border meetings did not take place at any of the five designated border meeting points on the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The Indian Army, sources said, had sent an invite to their Chinese counterparts as per past practice but there was no response from the Chinese.
Not only did the Chinese army not participate in the ceremonial border meeting at Nathu La, the meeting point closest to the standoff site in Doklam, they also extended their non-participation to four other border points across the LAC.
The Army refused to comment on the cancellation of the meetings but government officials said that this meeting provided an opportunity for a thaw between the two sides, as part of a system that had been useful in building confidence over the years. Adherence to these established practices, officials said, is in the interest of both sides in reducing tensions on the border.
The two ceremonial meetings every year between the armies were first held in 2005, following the signing of the Protocol on Modalities for the Implementation of Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field Along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas. As per Article V of the Protocol, “Both sides shall hold two additional border meetings each year at Spanggur Gap in the Western Sector, Nathu La in the Sikkim Sector and Bum La in the Eastern Sector respectively in celebration of the National Day or Army Day of either side.”
The two sides then mutually decided to host these ceremonial border meetings on August 1 and August 15, as other national or army days fall during the winter months when holding a ceremonial meeting is not possible in snow-bound areas. These ceremonial meetings include a small cultural show, a sporting contest and a meal, in a climate of bonhomie and friendliness.
Of the five border meeting points, three — Spanggur Gap in the western sector, Nathu La in the Sikkim sector and Bum La in the eastern sector — were mentioned in Article VII of the Agreement on Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field along the Line of Actual Control in India-China Border Areas signed between the two sides in November 1996. The other two meeting points — Kibithu-Damai in the eastern sector and Lipulekh Pass/Qiang La in the middle sector — were mentioned in the 2005 Protocol.