New Delhi: Even as China’s defence and foreign ministries reiterated their claim over the Galwan valley and warned New Delhi of “severe consequences” for the June 15 incident, Indian and Chinese diplomats held a video conference and agreed to implement the consensus on a phased disengagement that was reached during military talks.
Following the deadliest clash at the India-China border in 45 years on June 15, the two countries have remained in touch in order to find ways of resolving the stand-off at the border.
Twenty Indian soldiers lost their lives in the clash. While China also reportedly suffered casualties, the country has not confirmed it.
After the foreign ministers spoke on the phone, India and China held the second round of Corp commanders meeting on June 22, who apparently worked out an outline for ‘dis-engagement’ in their 11 hour-long meeting.
The agreement reached by the 14 Corps commander Lieutenant General Harinder Singh and South Xinjiang Military Region’s Major General Liu Lin, was on Wednesday endorsed and affirmed by diplomats from both sides at the virtual meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on China-India Border Affairs (WMCC).
While the diplomatic talks were being held, the rhetoric in Beijing was turned up a notch. China’s defence and foreign ministries issued long statements that reiterated their claim over the Galwan valley in eastern Ladakh.
“The Indian side promised that they would not cross the estuary of the Galwan River to patrol or build facilities, and the two sides would discuss and decide phased withdrawal of troops through the meetings between commanders on the ground,” said Chinese defence ministry spokesperson, senior colonel Wu Qian at a press conference in Beijing.
His counterpart in the Chinese foreign ministry, Zhao Lijian also provided an identical timeline. The Chinese language transcript of his statement says that after the stand-off began in early May, India had “agreed to and withdrew its cross-border personnel in the Galvan Valley and dismantled the crossing facilities in accordance with China’s request”.
However, the English transcript of Zhao’s remarks uploaded by the foreign ministry is differently phrased. “In the presence of China’s diplomatic representations and military pressure, India originally agreed to withdraw its personnel who crossed the LAC and dismantled the facilities it built across the line as China demanded,” said Zhao.
This is the first time that China has claimed that India had removed its structures in Galwan before the first corps commander-level meeting on June 6.
Restating that India had agreed to the limit of Galwan estuary during military talks, Zhao claimed that India “attacked us first” on the night of June 15. He described Indian soldiers as having attacked in an “abrupt and violent manner, which led to fierce physical confrontations and casualties”.
Earlier this week, India had accused China of misrepresenting the understanding reached on June 6.
The Chinese foreign ministry accused the Indian army’s “adventurous acts” to have seriously violated bilateral agreements and breached the “basic norms governing international relations”.
In unusually strong words – even during the current tensions, Zhao warned, “They are of a vile nature and have severe consequences”.
China also called for India to “severely punish” and “strictly discipline” its frontline troops – a demand which had been first made by the Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi in his phone conversation with his Indian counterpart S. Jaishankar on June 17.
While China issued these strong statements on Wednesday, the WMCC also met for the first time, led by MEA joint secretary (east) Naveen Srivastava and the Chinese foreign ministry’s director general, Department of Boundary and Oceanic Affairs, Hong Liang.
The two sides issued separate press notes. Both the read-outs had some common points: taking note and agreeing to implement the understandings reached at the two rounds of corp commander-level military talks on June 6 and 22.
The Indian statement said that the two delegations agreed that “implementation of this understanding expeditiously, in accordance with the bilateral agreements and protocols, would help ensure peace and tranquillity in border areas and the development of broader relationship between the two countries”.
In a similar strain, the Chinese read-out also noted that the two sides “agreed to strictly abide by the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries and a series of agreements signed by the two sides, further strengthen confidence-building measures in the military field and jointly safeguard peace and tranquillity in the border areas”.
Besides, the MEA statements asserted that it was “emphasised that both sides should strictly respect and observe the line of actual control”.
Meanwhile, satellite images analysed by Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Nathan Ruser that the Chinese have increased their structures in Galwan valley since June 15.
Satellite imagery from the Galwan Valley on June 22nd shows that ‘disengagement’ really isn’t the word that the government should be using. This gif shows the small outpost that sparked the June 15th clashes. It has grown hugely in size. Indian troops aren’t dismantling this one. pic.twitter.com/8Q78ftr3uW
— Nathan Ruser (@Nrg8000) June 24, 2020
Unlike other parts of the boundary, India had a clear perception of where the LAC crossed in Galwan valley, based on older Chinese maps and patrolling patterns. This is contrary to Chinese claims that they had always been patrolling in the Galwan valley – an assertion that has been publicly made for the first time during the latest crisis.