India and China have agreed to "expeditious disengagement" of border personnel at Dokalam, New Delhi said today, a week before the BRICS summit in China that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to attend.
In a major diplomatic breakthrough, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said the two countries had maintained "diplomatic communication" and were able to express their views, concerns and interests.
The statement did not explicitly say if Chinese and Indian troops have withdrawn from the area but China claimed in a statement today that Indian troops have indeed pulled back. China, however, remained ambiguous about the status of its own troops.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing, "Chinese troops on the ground have verified it. China continues to exercise sovereignty. China will make adjustments according to the situation."
Asked if the Chinese statement means that China has not made any concession, officials in New Delhi said expeditious disengagement implies withdrawal of both parties because a unilateral withdrawal by India would not have needed or required an agreement with China.
Troops of the two countries have been locked in a standoff in Dokalam near Sikkim since June after Indian troops stopped the Chinese army from building a road in the disputed area.
"In recent weeks, India and China have maintained diplomatic communication in respect of the incident at Dokalam. During these communications, we were able to express our views and convey our concerns and interests.
"On this basis, expeditious disengagement of border personnel at the face-off site in Dokalam has been agreed to and is on-going," the MEA statement said.
Hua, the Chinese spokesperson, said Indian soldiers and equipment had been pulled back to the Indian side of the border. The Chinese side, she added, continues to patrol the Dokalam area.
"The Chinese side continues to uphold sovereignty and territorial integrity according to the historical convention," she said.
Two days ago, the Army Chief Bipin Rawat had said that China was attempting to 'change the status quo' on its border with India and that incidents like Doklam were likely to increase in the coming future.
Last Thursday, China accused India of contradicting its words with actions after New Delhi decided to build a road around 20 km near Pangong Lake in Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), and warned that such a development would only worsen the on-going two-month-long stand-off in Doklam.
"It seems according to the reports the Indian side is slapping its own face. The Indian side is closely following China's road-building recently but India's actions themselves have proven that the Indian side says something and does another. Its words are in complete contradiction to its deeds in terms of border issues," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told the Chinese media on Thursday.
A week ago, Home Minister Rajnath Singh had said that the solution to the border dispute with the neighbouring state would be found soon. After re-iterating that India could protect her borders, Singh had said that he wanted to convey a message to all neighbouring countries that India wanted peace.
A video had also emerged which showed Indian and Chinese PLA troops scuffling at Ladakh on August 15, adding to the already increasing tension due to the standoff near Sikkim. The Chinese media had been adding fuel to the fire at a time when there was a show of restraint by their counterparts in India.
India and China have been locked in a face-off in the Doklam area of the Sikkim sector after Indian troops stopped the Chinese Army from building a road in the area.
China claimed it was constructing the road within their territory and has been demanding immediate pull-out of the Indian troops from the disputed Doklam plateau. Bhutan says Doklam belongs to it but China claims it to be its territory.
With Agency Inputs