India on Thursday asked China to restrict its activities to its side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) while rubbishing Chinese claims of sovereignty over Galwan Valley, even as the Indian Army said that no soldier was “missing in action” after the violent brawl of June 15.
Indian and Chinese delegations, led by major generals, met on Thursday near Patrol Point 14 in Galwan Valley as part of military engagements to defuse tensions on the disputed border. This was the seventh meeting between Major General Abhijit Bapat, commander of Karu-based headquarters 3 Infantry Division, and his Chinese counterpart since the stand-off began in early May, and the third after Monday night’s clash that left 20 Indian soldiers dead.
“The two sides had a long discussion on the border situation after the clash. They agreed to hold more talks in the coming days. These talks will be held at different levels,” an Indian Army official said on condition of anonymity.
Amid the continuing contacts via military and diplomatic channels, India asked the Chinese side to limit its activities to its side of the LAC – a significant move following external affairs minister S Jaishankar’s assertion during a phone conversation with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on Wednesday, that Chinese troops entered the Indian side in Galwan Valley and sought to erect a structure.
“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 Chinese side to also confine its activities to its side of the LAC,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava told a weekly media briefing.
Earlier in the day, Srivastava dismissed the Chinese military’s claim of sovereignty over Galwan Valley, which is at the heart of the stand-off. He pointed to the June 6 agreement reached at a meeting of senior military commanders for de-escalation and disengagement along the LAC, and said: “Making exaggerated and untenable claims is contrary to this understanding.”
After the clash of June 15, a statement in Mandarin issued by the Western Command of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said: “The sovereignty of the Galwan River Valley has always been ours.”
The Indian Army also asserted that no soldiers were missing in action after the June 15 brawl in Galwan Valley, in which the Chinese side also purportedly suffered casualties.
“It is clarified that there are no Indian troops missing in action,” the army said in a terse statement, responding to reports that some troops were unaccounted for after the seven-hour clash that involved more than 500 rival troops.
The June 15 clash marked the first Indian casualties in a border skirmish with PLA since October 1975, when Chinese troops ambushed an Indian patrol in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tulung La sector and shot four soldiers dead.
The soldiers exchanged blows, threw stones at each other, and Chinese troops attacked Indian soldiers with iron rods and nail-studded clubs. Some soldiers from both sides fell into the river and their bodies were retrieved on Tuesday morning, Indian Army officials said on condition of anonymity.
The brawl left 76 Indian soldiers injured, including 18 with serious injuries who are now said to be stable. Indian Army officials claimed 43 Chinese were killed or seriously injured, citing radio intercepts and other intelligence. Fatal casualties on the Chinese side reportedly include a colonel, but HT could not independently verify this.
The external affairs ministry said India had expected de-escalation and disengagement along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh to “unfold smoothly” after senior military commanders of both sides reached a consensus on these efforts during the meeting in Chushul-Moldo region on June 6.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Srivastava reiterated India’s assertion the Chinese side was to blame for the violence as it “departed from the consensus to respect the LAC in Galwan Valley”.
The violent face-off of June 15, he said, occurred “when the Chinese side unilaterally attempted to change the status quo there” and took “premeditated and planned action that was directly responsible for the resulting violence and casualties suffered by both sides”. He added: “This could have been avoided had the agreement at the higher level been scrupulously followed by the Chinese side.”
Srivastava said that during his phone conversation with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi on Wednesday, Jaishankar “conveyed that the need of the hour was for the Chinese side to reassess its actions and take corrective steps”.
He added: “They should strictly respect and observe the LAC and not take any unilateral action to alter it. It was agreed that both sides would implement the dis-engagement understanding of June 6 sincerely. Neither side would take any action to escalate matters and instead, ensure peace and tranquillity as per bilateral agreements and protocols.”
The two sides are in regular touch through their embassies and foreign offices, and have maintained communication at the military commanders’ level on the ground. Meetings of other established diplomatic mechanisms such as the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on border affairs are being discussed, Srivastava said.
“While we remain firmly convinced of the need for maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the borders areas and the resolution of differences through dialogue, at the same time, as [Prime Minister Narendra Modi] stated [on Wednesday], we are also strongly committed to ensuring India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Srivastava added.
Former ambassador Rajiv Bhatia, distinguished fellow for foreign policy studies at Gateway House, said: “We aren’t out of the woods as yet. The foreign ministers of the two sides had a candid conversation and the crux of the matter was outlined in India’s readout – that the consensus reached on June 6 was broken by the Chinese side.”
“Things are very fluid and there is trouble at other points of the LAC though we are not focusing on them. We have made our position clear, but whether the Chinese side adheres to the consensus at the diplomatic or military levels remains to be seen. A solution won’t come at the military level, and that’s why the diplomatic and political levels become important,” he added.