India-China Border Row Turns Deadly – New Delhi Goes Into a Huddle
India-China border violence has taken place amid the de-escalation process. What should India’s next steps be?
(Disclaimer: This story was originally published before the Indian Army confirmed 20 casualties in the Galwan Valley face-off, and has been updated to reflect developments)
Top Cabinet ministers, army officials, bureaucrats and diplomats have been huddled up in a series of meetings from Delhi to Ladakh, as numbers were dialled from Delhi to Beijing where Indian envoy Vikram Misri is in charge, following the loss of lives of 20 Indian soldiers at Galwan Valley in Ladakh on Monday, 15 June night.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh held an urgent meeting with Foreign Minister Dr S Jaishankar, CDS Bipin Rawat, and the three service chiefs on Tuesday, 16 June afternoon, to discuss the tense situation across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) which took a violent turn. The meeting lasted for nearly 75 minutes, as per sources. There were subsequent discussions between Rajnath Singh, Jaishankar, the CDS and the Indian Army Chief in the evening, and Prime Minister Modi was later briefed by the MEA Jaishankar.
India-China Border Violence Took Place Amid De-Escalation Process
India has now, in a formal statement, accused China of trying to alter the status quo at the Line of Actual Control. This was hours after the Chinese Foreign Ministry blamed Indian troops for ‘provoking’ the Monday night violence and lodged a protest. “On the late-evening and night of 15 June 2020, a violent face-off happened as a result of an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo there. Both sides suffered casualties that could have been avoided had the agreement at the higher level been scrupulously followed by the Chinese side,” said Anurag Srivastava, MEA spokesperson in Delhi.
The violence took place at a time when, following military talks, the two sides were reportedly engaged in a de-escalation process.
“Senior Commanders had a productive meeting on 6 June 2020, and agreed on a process for such de-escalation. Subsequently, Ground Commanders had a series of meetings to implement the consensus reached at a higher level. While it was our expectation that this would unfold smoothly, the Chinese side departed from the consensus to respect the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Galwan Valley,” Anurag Srivastava further added.
Indian Army Reports That ‘Both Sides Suffered Casualties’
For the first time since the firings at Tulung La in Arunachal Pradesh in 1975, soldiers have died at the India-China border. This time around not in firings, according to reports, but instead in stone-pelting and violent bloodied scuffles between the Indian Army and the Chinese PLA troops which have been locked in tense standoffs for the past many weeks across multiple points at the LAC.
The Indian Army, in its modified statement, has said that “both sides suffered casualties”. “During the de-escalation process underway in the Galwan Valley, a violent face-off took place yesterday night with casualties on both sides.” (emphasis ours).
The loss of lives on the Indian side includes an officer and two soldiers.
“Senior military officials of the two sides are currently meeting at the venue to defuse the situation,” said the updated official statement. However, Beijing has not confirmed any casualties on its side, though its state media indicated that the PLA had suffered losses.
Chinese Accusations & India’s Response
The state media outlet Global Times quoted the Foreign Ministry statements and said, “Indian troops on Monday seriously violated the consensus of the two sides by illegally crossing the border twice and carrying out provocative attacks on Chinese soldiers, resulting in serious physical clashes.”
“China has lodged solemn representations with the Indian side and urged it to strictly restrain its frontline troops from crossing the border or taking any unilateral action that may complicate the border situation,” the Global Times report further added about the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s remarks.
In a separate statement, the PLA Western Theatre Command spokesperson also accused Indian troops of ‘Again crossing the LAC in the Galwan Valley region’ and ‘purposefully launching provocative attacks, leading to severe clashes and casualties’.
“Given its responsible approach to border-management, India is very clear that all its activities are always within the Indian side of the LAC. We expect the same of the Chinese side,” the MEA spokesperson said in response.
Indian MEA’s Official Statement
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar is slated to participate in a virtual meet with his Chinese and Russian counterparts on 22 June, a first direct contact between Jaishankar and Wang Yi since the escalation of tensions at the LAC.
“China and Indian side agreed to resolve the bilateral issues through dialogue to ease the border situation and maintain peace and tranquility in border areas,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry statement said.
“We remain firmly convinced of the need for the maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the border areas and the resolution of differences through dialogue. At the same time, we are also strongly committed to ensuring India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” India has underlined in its official reply.
Will Modi Initiate Direct Phone Call to Xi Jinping?
Incidentally, it was President Xi’s birthday on 15 June – and Prime Minister Modi, unlike in 2016-2018, did not wish him on the Chinese micro-blogging site Weibo.
In 2019, the two leaders were in Bishkek for the SCO summit when Modi had wished Xi in person. Following the 73-day tense standoff at Doklam, Modi and Xi agreed to the informal summit talks mechanism – held first in Wuhan in China, and then in Mamallapuram in Tamil Nadu in 2019.
It remains to be seen if Prime Minister Modi initiates a direct phone call with President Xi as the military commanders struggle to resolve the volatile and grim situation on the ground.
(Smita Sharma is an independent journalist and tweets at @Smita_Sharma.)
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