New Delhi: After Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a dig at India’s northern neighbour by saying that the “age of expansionism is over” in his address to troops at Ladakh, the Chinese embassy in New Delhi stated that this was an exaggeration and it was “groundless” to describe China as “expansionist”.
Modi, on Friday, reached Leh with Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat in what was a surprise visit, days after a violent face-off between Indian and Chinese troops in East Ladakh led to the death of 20 Indian soldiers.
The prime minister reached Leh at around 9.30 am. Once there, Modi interacted with personnel of the Army, the Air Force and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP). Modi was also briefed by senior Army officers, officials were quoted as having said.
The prime minister addressed Army personnel at Nimu in a televised speech. He said the bravery shown by the soldiers has sent a message about the strength of India.
Not for the first time, he also sought to highlight how his government’s decisions have reportedly eased life at the border, especially for the Army.
“Cost of border infrastructure has been made threefold. The roads at the border are being strengthened and thus, travel is faster and the time taken to bring things to the region is less,” he said in Hindi.
“The age of expansionism is over, this is the age of development. History is witness that expansionist forces have either lost or were forced to turn back,” he said, in an apparent jab at China. Notably, Modi had maintained in his controversial June 19 speech that there had been no intrusion into India.
Simultaneously, Modi also amped the battle rhetoric with a little help from Hindu mythology.
“We are the same people who pray to the flute playing Lord Krishna but we are also the same people who idolise and follow the same Lord Krishna who carries the ‘Sudarshana Chakra’,” ANI quoted him as having said.
In Beijing, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson was asked at the daily media briefing for a response to the Indian prime minister’s visit to Ladakh.
“On the first question, at present, China and India are engaged in dialogue and communication on easing the current situation through military and diplomatic channels. Under such circumstances, neither party should take any action that could complicate the situation at the border,” said spokesperson Zhao Lijian.
#China has demarcated boundary with 12 of its 14 neighboring countries through peaceful negotiations, turning land borders into bonds of friendly cooperation. It’s groundless to view China as “expansionist”, exaggerate & fabricate its disputes with neighbours.
— Ji Rong (@ChinaSpox_India) July 3, 2020
A few hours later, the Chinese embassy directly engaged with Modi’s remarks at Ladakh.
Stating that China has demarcated boundary with 12 outs of its 14 neighbouring countries, the Chinese embassy spokesperson Ji Rong tweeted that it was “groundless to view China as “expansionist”, exaggerate & fabricate its disputes with neighbours.”
In his speech, Modi referred twice to the Galwan valley, where the stand-off began with China in early May and was also the location for the deadliest clash on the India-China boundary in 45 years.
China has claimed the entire Galwan valley for the first time after the violent face-off on June 15. While the India-China boundary has not been demarcated or delineated, India had never seen Galwan as one of those areas of differing perception where the claim lines of both countries have overlapped.
Modi first referred to the soldiers who were “martyred” in Galwan valley. The second time, he included Galwan in the list of famous battlefields.
“This soil is imbibed with stories of valour of its brave son. From Leh-Ladakh to Kargil and Siachen, from the snowy peaks of Rezang La to the cold water stream of Galwan valley, every peak, every mountain, each and every particle, every pebble-stone is a testimony to the might of Indian soldiers,” he said.
Invoking ‘Bharat Mata ki seva‘ (‘service to Mother India’), Modi said that it is because of the forces that the country has been winning consistently.
Modi also said India’s resolve for ‘atmanirbhar Bharat’ (self-reliant India) becomes stronger “because of you and your strong resolve.”
Speaking at the Buddhist-dominated Leh district, Modi also quoted Gautam Buddha. He told the personnel that their will power is as strong and firm as the Himalayas and the whole country is proud of them.
Located at 11,000 feet, Nimu is among the toughest terrains, on the banks of river Indus and surrounded by the Zanskar range.
Indian and Chinese military commanders have been engaged in several rounds of talks for de-escalating the situation in eastern Ladakh. There have also been diplomatic talks between the foreign ministries, but there has not been any visible change in posture from the Chinese side at the stand-off points.
Lately, India has also taken some steps to express unhappiness with China – from banning 59 Chinese mobile applications to referring to concerns about the new national security law in Hong Kong. There have also been reports of unusual delay in clearance of Chinese imports at various Indian ports.
Note: The story has been edited since publication to include details of China’s response to Prime Minister Modi’s comments.