Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the first public statement on the border clash with China, a day after the army confirmed 20 personnel including a colonel were killed in a clash with Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh on Monday night, the biggest military confrontation in over five decades.
The two sides have been involved in a tense standoff in the region for five weeks.
Two days after the clash, the Prime Minister’s Office tweeted:
Later, during a video-conference on COVID-19 preparation, Modi spoke for the first time on the clash, saying “I would like to assure the nation that the sacrifice of our jawans will not be in vain. For us, the unity and sovereignty of the country is the most important... India wants peace but it is capable to give a befitting reply if instigated.” (Read more)
Defence minister Rajnath Singh called the soldiers’ death “deeply disturbing and painful”. “Our soldiers displayed exemplary courage and valour in the line of duty and sacrificed their lives in the highest traditions of the Indian Army,” he said.
He is the first Cabinet minister to comment on the situation after it was made public on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, at a Wednesday briefing, Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters that “both sides agree to resolve this matter through dialogue and consultation and make efforts to eases the situation and safeguard peace and tranquility in the border area.”
Zhao also repeated Chinese claims that the clashes came after Indian forces “provoked and attacked Chinese personnel”.
What China and India said a day before
The Indian Army had initially on Tuesday said that an officer and two soldiers were killed in the clash. But in a late evening statement it revised the figure to 20 saying 17 others who “were critically injured in the line of duty and exposed to sub-zero temperatures at the standoff location succumbed to their injuries.”
The Indian Army also said there had been casualties on both sides. The officer killed in the clash was identified as Colonel Santosh Babu, Commanding Officer of the 16 Bihar regiment, and a native of Telangana.
“Indian and Chinese troops have disengaged at the Galwan area where they had earlier clashed on the night of 15/16 June 2020,” its statement said.
The Ministry of External Affairs said in its statement the face-off happened as a result of an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo. “Both sides suffered casualties that could have been avoided had the agreement at the higher level been scrupulously followed by the Chinese side,” MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said.
He also said that India is very clear that all its activities are always within the Indian side of the LAC and added that New Delhi expects the same of Beijing.
The Indian army and the government did not say how the casualties occurred and did not mention any firefight between the two sides.
But in a briefing in Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said there had been “serious physical conflicts between the border forces of both sides”. An Indian government source told Reuters the troops had fought with iron rods and stones.
Zhao said Indian forces had violated the consensus with China on and provoked physical conflicts with Chinese soldiers. Zhao called India’s actions ‘illegal’ and ‘shocking’.
“China has lodged strong protests and solemn representations with the Indian side. Once again, we solemnly demand that the Indian side strictly restrain its front-line troops in accordance with the consensus, refrain from crossing the borderline, provoking troubles or taking any unilateral actions that may complicate the border situation,” the spokesman said.
“China and India have agreed to resolve the border issue through dialogue and make efforts to ease the situation and maintain peace and stability in the border area,” said Zhao.
The number and details of the casualties on the Chinese side were not confirmed.
The first clash in decades
The Indian Express pointed out that last deaths on the India-China border were in 1975 when an Indian patrol was ambushed by the Chinese soldiers on the LAC in Arunachal Pradesh.
Indian Army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane had said on Saturday that disengagement of Indian and Chinese troops was taking place in a “phased manner” along the LAC.
The situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) had been building up since late April, The Hindu cited sources as saying, and there were two clashes in the Pangong Tso area and at Naku La in Sikkim in early May.
Lt General Harinder Singh, the general officer commanding of the Leh-based 14 Corps, and Commander of the Tibet Military District Maj Gen Liu Lin had held a nearly seven-hour meeting on June 6. The meeting was followed by two rounds of Major General-level talks.
Happymon Jacob, Associate Professor at JNU’s Centre for International Politics, Organisation and Disarmament at the School of International Studies, had told HuffPost India that “while it’s a huge border and difficult to man, what is concerning is that even the intelligence agencies failed to detect it.”
“This is extremely, extremely serious, this is going to vitiate whatever dialogue was going on,” former Indian army commander D. S. Hooda told Reuters.
On Tuesday night, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a high-level meeting with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Home Minister Amit Shah evening where he is reported to have carried out a comprehensive review of the situation in Ladakh.