China has dismantled dozens of structures and moved vehicles to empty camps along a disputed Himalayan border, where Indian and Chinese troops have been locked in a face-off since last summer, satellite images show.
The neighbors last week announced a plan to pull back troops, tanks and other equipment from the banks of Pangong Tso, a glacial lake in the Ladakh region, that became a flashpoint in the border dispute.
Satellite imagery of areas on the northern bank of Pangong Tso supplied by Maxar Technologies show that several Chinese military camps, which could be seen there in late January, have been removed.
“Similar action is happening from our side also,” said an Indian official in New Delhi.
India’s defense minister, Rajnath Singh, told parliament that both sides had agreed to pull back troops in “a phased, coordinated and verified manner” around Pangong Tso, after which military commanders would discuss ending the standoff in other parts of the Ladakh frontier.
Tensions began rising along the border in April, when India accused Chinese troops of intruding into its side of the Line of Actual Control, the de facto border. China denied the allegation, saying it was operating in its own area.
But the confrontation spiraled in June when 20 Indian soldiers and an undisclosed number of Chinese troops were killed during hand-to-hand clashes in Ladakh’s Galwan region – the first such casualties along the 3,500-kilometer border in decades.
Despite several subsequent rounds of diplomatic and military talks, India and China had been unable to settle on an agreement until this month, making the ongoing first phase of the withdrawal critical.
“What is happening now is that wherever troops, especially north and south of Pangong Tso, were in eyeball-to-eyeball contact, they have taken a step back to reduce tensions and pave way for further de-escalation,” the Indian official said.
But some experts have cautioned that current withdrawal is only the first step in a potentially long, drawn-out process.