On June 16, the news spread like fire that in the continued incursion between India and China in the Galwan Valley, China has killed 20 Indians including an officer. Thereafter various Indian news outlets reported that India has retaliated by killing 5 Chinese soldiers however there’s no official confirmation pertaining to this.
For exactly 42 days now, some unusual disturbing developments have been taking place by the Line of Actual Control or the de facto border between India and Tibet. On 10th May, various media outlets had shared the news about the ensuing trouble between Indian and Chinese soldiers on the north bank of Pangong Tso Lake. Since then, various minor but significant face-offs have been reported in the Galwan River, on the north bank of Pangong Tso, at Hot Springs in Chang Chenmo River valley, and in Demchok.
Indian Army on Tuesday released its statement and said, “During the de-escalation process underway in the Galwan Valley, a violent face-off took place yesterday night with casualties. 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.”
History of Conflict
The continued conflict of interests between the two nuclear-armed countries, located geographically adjacent to each other, is due to the contested claims over the LAC which, as China puts it, is not viable as it was decided on by Britain. The disputed demarcation is neither affixed nor is its control assigned to one country. The two countries have once already been engaged in a war in 1962 over the boundary between Ladakh and Aksai Chin, which both claim but is controlled by China. The war resulted in a humiliating defeat for India, which lost more than 1,300 of its soldiers as well a large chunk of its financial reserves. Although not at war since then, relations between the two have been tense. In 2017, Indian troops moved into Bhutan, a small kingdom sandwiched between the two nuclear states to stop China from building a road that India believed would tamper with the strategic balance of the area. China also claims Arunachal Pradesh as part of southern Tibet while India opposes it.
What’s happening at LAC now?
It has been reported that Chinese troops had already crossed the disputed border when they came face to face with India on May 5 in Ladakh and on May 9 in Sikkim. It is believed that the latest conflict has developed due to India constructing a bridge near LAC in Ladakh, which might provide China to take its piece of the revenge from when India did the same in Bhutan in 2017. Many in India are of the view that the latest incursion is an attempt by China to deviate the world’s attention in its failure to contain the deadly Covid-19. There is emerging towering evidence that the Chinese have deployed towed artillery and mechanised elements on their side of the LAC opposite the Galwan valley which suggests that permanent defences are being prepared by the Chinese in the area.
To further develop your understanding, know that territory up till Finger 8 is claimed by India while it patrols upto Finger 4, but after May 5, Chinese troops have built a metalled road up till Finger 4 i.e where India patrols. Furthermore, China now claims the entire region beyond Finger 4 as LAC and India cannot move there anymore.
On June 16, the news broke that in a further violent face-off the previous night in Galwan Valley of Ladakh, an Indian officer including 2 soldiers were killed. By late night, the news that at least 20 soldiers had been killed had been confirmed by government sources. It is now also reported by The Telegraph that further 34 Indian soldiers are missing. AFP brought in the statement from Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian that Indian troops crossed the borderline twice on Monday, “provoking and attacking Chinese personnel, resulting in a serious physical confrontation between border forces on the two sides.”
Several British newspapers have also reported that India too took to killing 5 Chinese soldiers and has inflicted casualties in retaliation but there’s still no confirmation regarding this. Aarti Tikoo Singh, foreign and strategic affairs editor of IANS reports that the missing Indians are being held captive by the Chinese who are threatening to throw them off the hill.
Reuters India also tweeted, “China foreign ministry, asked about Indian army reporting casualties in clash with China, says calls on India to not take unilateral actions or stir up trouble.”
Global Times reported, “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.”
ANI further reports that the Commanding officer of the Chinese unit involved in the face-off at Galwan is among those who’ve been killed among the Chinese. It says that there have been a significant number of casualties on the Chinese side as well. Although there’s no confirmation regarding the exact number of injured PLA soldiers, the number is expected to be beyond 40.
Responses of the respective governments
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday, 17 June, said that the sacrifice of jawans in Ladakh won’t go in vain and that India can give a befitting reply if instigated. PM Modi remarks came just ahead of the meet with chief ministers on the COVID-19 situation.
Both sides continue to assert that keeping aside the final resolution of the boundary issue, it is necessary to maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas.
Indian MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said that India is committed to the goal of maintenance of peace and tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control and that Indian troops are very responsible towards border management.
In a briefing by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, it’s spokesman said that “China’s position on the China-India boundary question is consistent and clear”. After all the ruckus over the past few weeks, China now seems to have resorted to a more conciliatory tone clarifying that “the overall situation in the China-India border area is stable and controllable.” As of the latest development, China has claimed the whole of Galwan Valley.
After the ruthless killings on June 16 in the Galwan Valley, opposition parties in India are urging the government to take the right step; many hinting towards retaliation.
Congress’s Manish Tewari says that “What happened on the border is extremely unfortunate. I think, the time has come for the government to start taking the opposition into confidence and build a national consensus on such issues.”
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs has released an official statement wherein spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said, “India and China have been discussing through military and diplomatic channels the de-escalation of the situation in the border area in Eastern Ladakh. He further informed that “India is very clear that all its activities are always within the Indian side of the LAC. We expect the same on the Chinese side.”
“We remain firmly convinced of the need for the maintenance of peace and tranquility 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.”
What should the world expect next?
“I suspect that the escalation will probably be contained,” says Steve Tsang, the director of the China Institute at SOAS, University of London. “I don’t think either government wants to engage in a military conflict with the other. But neither government wants to be seen as backing down, either.” “The Indians, in particular, are sensitive about the border with China, and the Chinese don’t take the Indians sufficiently seriously to give the Indians proper respect. So the base atmosphere is very bad for both sides” furthers says, Tsang.
Since both the countries are being ruled by men adamant on keeping alive the nationalist fervour, the situation is more serious than it seems. As Kerry Brown, director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College London puts it, “the slightest infringement means they have to do the maximum because if they don’t they’ll be labeled as traitors. There is no space for nuance.”