Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India would give a befitting reply to any provocation even as New Delhi and Beijing on Wednesday spoke of the need to avoid actions that could escalate matters along their disputed border, two days after a violent face-off left 20 Indian soldiers dead.
Both sides again traded charges on what triggered Monday night’s face-off in Galwan Valley along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the focus of the current tensions, with external affairs minister S Jaishankar telling his counterpart Wang Yi in a phone conversation the Chinese side’s “pre-meditated and planned action” was behind the violence and casualties.
This was the first time Jaishankar spoke to Wang since the stand-off began in early May and marked the highest political contact to address the tensions after talks between military commanders failed to break the impasse.
The Indian readout of the conversation said, “Neither side would take any action to escalate matters and instead, ensure peace and tranquillity as per bilateral agreements and protocols.” Both sides agreed to handle the situation in a “responsible manner” and sincerely implement the disengagement understanding of June 6 between army commanders.
China’s foreign ministry said the two sides had agreed to “cool down the situation on the ground as soon as possible”, observe the consensus reached at the commander-level meeting, maintain peace and tranquillity in line with existing agreements, and to “fairly address the serious situation caused by the conflict in the Galwan Valley”.
However, addressing a virtual meeting with chief ministers on the Covid-19 crisis, Prime Minister Modi said India wanted peace but wouldn’t hesitate to respond to any provocation.
The PM has called an all-party meeting on Friday to discuss the situation.
“India’s integrity and sovereignty is supreme for us, and no one can stop us from defending it. Nobody should have any iota of doubt about this. India wants peace. But on provocation, India will give a befitting reply,” he said, speaking in Hindi.
The meeting observed two minutes silence to pay tribute to the 20 soldiers killed in the face-off, and Modi said, “I want to assure the nation that the sacrifice made by our soldiers will not go in vain. The country will be proud of the fact that our soldiers have been martyred while they were fighting.”
“Whatever may be the situation and circumstances, India will firmly protect every inch of the country’s land and its self-respect. India is culturally a peace-loving country…We have always worked closely with our neighbours in a cooperative and friendly manner. We have always wished for their development and welfare,” he added.
India has tried to ensure that differences with neighbours never turned into a dispute, he said, adding: “We never provoke anyone, but we also do not compromise with the integrity and sovereignty of our country. Whenever it was needed, we have demonstrated our strength, proving our capabilities in protecting and defending the integrity and sovereignty of the country.
Two days after the brawl in Galwan Valley in which the 20 Indian soldiers were killed and China suffered scores of casualties, Indian and Chinese delegations led by major generals met in eastern Ladakh to defuse tensions, two officials said on condition of anonymity.
This was their sixth meeting after the stand-off began. Maj Gen Abhijit Bapat, commander of Karu-based headquarters 3 Infantry Division, and his Chinese counterpart held talks at the site of the clash near Patrol Point 14, where the Indian Army suffered its first casualties in a border skirmish with the People’s Liberation Army in 45 years.
Officials said the talks between delegations led by the two-star generals failed to achieve any breakthrough. While Indian and Chinese troops disengaged from the face-off site in Galwan Valley on Tuesday, both sides continue to maintain military presence in the disputed area.
In October 1975, Chinese troops had ambushed an Indian patrol in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tulung La sector and shot dead four soldiers.
The June 15 brawl also left 76 Indian soldiers wounded, including 18 with serious injuries, though all of them are stable now, the officials said. It also virtually derailed de-escalation plans worked out by Indian and Chinese military commanders in a rare meeting on June 6.
The troops have since disengaged, the Indian Army said in a statement on Tuesday, confirming the number of dead at 20. 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 couldn’t independently verify this.
Defence minister Rajnath Singh on Wednesday carried out a security review of the situation in a meeting with the chief of defence staff, Gen Bipin Rawat, and the three service chiefs. He also met PM Modi in the evening and briefed him on the border situation.
The Indian armed forces are on the highest state of alert to deal with any threat to national security following the significant escalation of the situation, officials said.
Army chief General MM Naravane and all ranks saluted the “supreme sacrifice of our valiant soldiers at Galwan” even as they “stand strong in our resolve towards protecting the sovereignty and integrity” of the country, the Indian Army tweeted.
During his phone conversation with China’s foreign minister, external affairs minister Jaishankar conveyed India’s strong protest on the violent face-off in Galwan Valley and noted an agreement on de-escalation and disengagement was reached at the meeting of military commanders on June 6.
Even as ground commanders made some progress in implementing this consensus last week, the “Chinese side sought to erect a structure in Galwan Valley on our side of the LAC”, Jaishankar said, according to the Indian readout.
“While this became a source of dispute, the Chinese side took pre-meditated and planned action that was directly responsible for the resulting violence and casualties. It reflected an intent to change the facts on ground in violation of all our agreements to not change the status quo,” he added.
Jaishankar said this “unprecedented development will have a serious impact on the bilateral relationship” and the Chinese side should “reassess its actions and take corrective steps”. The two sides should implement the understanding reached on June 6 and abide by bilateral agreements and protocols while strictly respecting the LAC and not taking “any unilateral action to alter it”, he said.
The Chinese foreign ministry’s statement showed Beijing intends to continue with its aggressive posture, quoting Wang as saying that the “Indian side must not misjudge the current situation and must not underestimate China’s firm determination to safeguard our territorial sovereignty”.
Wang reiterated China’s accusations – already rejected by India – that Indian troops had triggered the clash on June 15 by crossing the LAC, making “deliberate provocations” and “even violently attacked the Chinese soldiers who went for negotiations”.
“China once again lodges its strong protest to the Indian side. We urge the Indian side to conduct a thorough investigation, hold the violators accountable, strictly discipline the frontline troops and immediately stop all provocative acts to ensure such incidents will not occur again,” the statement said.
Wang said both countries are emerging powers and should speed up their development. “Therefore, mutual respect and support is a sure way and meets the long-term interests of both countries; suspicion and friction is a wrong path and goes against the fundamental aspiration of the two peoples,” he added.
He also reiterated China’s call for acting on the consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries and strengthening communication and coordination to address the border situation through existing channels, including the Special Representatives mechanism and border personnel meeting mechanism.
Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd), additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies, said, “The PM has set out in unambiguous terms what the government’s stand is. The situation demands that great thought be given to the path ahead without emotions clouding decision-making. The future would demand some serious and tough decisions to be taken, for which unstinted national support would be a must.”