New Delhi: India on Saturday rejected China’s claim that it had promised on June 6 not to “cross the estuary of the Galwan river to patrol and build facilities” with the Ministry of External Affairs saying that it had already protested “misrepresentations” of the understanding reached between Indian and Chinese senior commanders that day for de-escalation of tension along the line of actual control.
On Friday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian released a statement that gave Beijing’s “step by step” version of the events which led to the Galwan valley face-off of June 15. India has said that 20 of its soldiers were killed, while around 76 were injured in the physical hand-to-hand fight with Chinese troops on Monday night.
The Chinese document reiterated China’s recent claim over the whole Galwan valley, but it also accused India of violating the understanding reached on June 6 among senior commanders that Indian patrols “would not cross the estuary of the Galwan river”.
MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava on Saturday said this was not true and that external affairs minister S. Jaishankar had already described this claim as a misrepresentation of the agreement when he spoke to his Chinese counterpart on June 16.
Jaishankar “firmly rejected the unfounded allegations made by the Chinese side and the misrepresentation of the understandings reached between the senior commanders,” said Srivastava. He added that Jaishankar said that “it was for China to reassess its actions and take corrective steps”.
The senior commanders’ meeting led to an agreement “on a process for de-escalation and disengagement along the LAC that involved reciprocal actions”, the MEA spokesperson added. “Both sides had agreed to respect and abide by the LAC and not undertake any activity to alter the status quo.”
China publicly staked claim to entire Galwan valley on June 16 through the PLA western theatre command spokesperson. While this was the first time that China had made a public claim, Chinese military officials had been taking this position during their border meetings with Indian counterparts since the start of the current stand-off in May.
The Chinese eagerness to limit Indian patrolling up to the estuary of the Galwan river, which merges into the Shyok river, is significant as this is tantamount to pushing the LAC – which lies hundreds of metres east of the confluence – westwards. The aim seemed to be to establish the boundary along Shyok river.
The Indian statement on Saturday that Jaishankar had protested “misrepresentations” of the June 6 agreement is, likely, a reference to this specific claim.
The Chinese foreign ministry had also said that “for many years, the Chinese border troops have been patrolling and on duty in this region”.
This was refuted by the Indian side. “The position with regard to the Galwan Valley area has been historically clear. Attempts by the Chinese side to now advance exaggerated and untenable claims with regard to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) there are not acceptable. They are not in accordance with China’s own position in the past,” said Srivastava.
He noted that Indian troops are “fully familiar with the alignment of the LAC in all sectors of the India-China border areas, including in the Galwan Valley”.
Stating that Indian troops abide by the LAC alignment at all place, the MEA spokesperson said that the Indian side has never undertaken any actions across the LAC.
“In fact, they have been patrolling this area for a long time without any incident. All infrastructure built by the Indian side is naturally on its own side of the LAC,” he said.
Galwan had never been listed as one of the 23 areas of differing perception on the LAC, where the claim lines of India and China overlap leading to patrol teams coming face-to-face on frequent occasions. Since maps in the western sector have not been exchanged, India had understood the alignment of the Chinese claims based on patrolling pattern and behaviour. In the Galwan region, Chinese government maps also depict the LAC stopping short of the juncture of the rivers Galwan and Shyok.
The MEA’s reiteration of India’s sovereignty over Galwan comes on the same day that the Prime Minister’s Office had to issue a clarification over PM Narendra Modi’s remarks at Friday’s all-party meeting on the border situation.
In his closing remarks at the video conference that was carried on TV channels, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “Na koi wahan hamari seema mein ghus aaya hai aur nahi koi ghusa hua hai, na hi hamari koi post kisi dusre ke kabze mein hain”.
The English translation of Modi’s comment is that “no one has intruded across our border and nor is anyone intruding”. This led to questions about the Indian position on Galwan, since it was the presence of Chinese troops in the region claimed by India which led New Delhi to earlier complain that Beijing was attempting to change the status quo on the ground.
A day later, the PMO issued a statement dismissing what it said was “mischievous interpretations” given to his remarks “in some quarters”
The PMO statement on Saturday uses the phrase “just across the LAC” to describe the location of the spot where the Chinese side attempted to erect structures. It also refers to Chinese efforts as “attempted transgression”.
In contrast, the MEA press note of June 17 about the phone call said that “the Chinese side sought to erect a structure in Galwan valley on our side of the LAC”.
The MEA statement issued on Saturday followed the PMO template and noted that the Chinese “sought to erect structures just across the LAC”.
According to official sources, the phrase “across the LAC” does mean the Indian side of the LAC, but not too far from the boundary.
The MEA spokesperson stated that the two sides remained in regular touch and “early meetings of military and diplomatic mechanisms are currently being discussed”.
“We expect that the Chinese side will sincerely follow the understanding reached between the Foreign Ministers to ensure peace and tranquillity in the border areas, which is so essential for the overall development of our bilateral relations,” he said.