New Delhi: Two-and-a-half months after the violent clash at Galwan Valley, India and China are facing off at a new area on the border, after Chinese troops intruded into the southern bank of Pangong Tso on Saturday night.
The Indian Army issued a statement on Monday morning that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army “carried out provocative military movements to change the status quo” on the night of August 29-30.
“Indian troops pre-empted this PLA activity on the southern Bank of Pangong Tso Lake, undertook measures to strengthen our positions and thwart Chinese intentions to unilaterally change facts on ground,” said the statement.
Though the statement did not say so, the Indian Army is believed to have rushed some 800 soldiers to Chushul, just south of the lake.
The “provocative actions” were in violation of the “previous consensus arrived at during military and diplomatic engagements during the ongoing standoff in Eastern Ladakh”, the official release stated tersely, providing no further details. A brigade commander level flag meeting is in progress at Chushul to resolve the issues, the Indian Army said.
“The Indian Army is committed to maintaining peace and tranquility through dialogue, but is also equally determined to protect its territorial integrity,” it added.
The initial Chinese response had been muted, but then the statement from the PLA made it crystal clear that there was no intention to give ground.
“Indian troops have violated the consensus reached at the multi-level talks between India and China and again crossed the line of actual control at the border on Monday and purposely launched provocations,” said Senior Colonel Zhang Shuili of the PLA Western Theater Command on Monday evening.
Asserting that it was “counterproductive and treacherous”, the Chinese military spokesperson said that India’s actions “seriously violates China’s territorial sovereignty” and “undermines peace and stability in the border area”.
Mirroring the Indian statement, China accused Indian troops of having crossed the LAC.
The Chinese statement was different from the India in one important aspect – the timing of the incident.
While the Indian army said that Chinese soldiers had attempted to transgress on the night of August 29-30, the PLA officer stated India had crossed the LAC on August 31. It is not clear if the two sides are talking of the same incident, or two different events.
Earlier in the day in Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson denied that the China had moved beyond its section of the LAC. “China’s border guards have always strictly abided by the actual line of control and have never crossed the line. The border forces of the two countries have been maintaining communication on the issue of the present,” said spokesperson Zhao Lijian.
As per Indian government sources quoted by PTI, a “sizeable” number of Chinese troops were moving towards the southern bank in an attempt to occupy the area. Sources added that there had been “no physical skirmishes”. While the Chinese were sent back to an extent, they continue to be in the vicinity.
Interestingly, Thakung, which lies firmly on the Indian side of the LAC, is within the China’s 1960 claim line. This suggests the PLA may be working to a plan on the south bank of Pangong Tso of pushing the LAC westward. On the north bank, however, the PLA has moved beyond even its traditional claim line.
The Indian Army and Chinese troops have been involved in multiple clashes since early May in eastern Ladakh, after Indian soldiers detected Chinese intrusion far beyond the usual patrolling points on the Line of Actual Control.
The most serious clash took place on June 15 at Galwan Valley, when a violent hand-to-hand fight led to the death of 20 Indian soldiers. China has admitted casualties on their side, but not revealed any numbers. These were the first military casualties along the India-China border in four decades.
Consequently, there have been high-level phone calls at the foreign minister and national security advisor level, which led to multiple rounds of military and diplomatic talks for disengagement of troops along the border.
So far, there has been five rounds of talks between military commanders and four rounds of Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs.
While Chinese troops have gone back in Galwan, but the disengagement process has been largely stalled due to China refusing to go back to their previous positions on the ‘fingers’ on the Pangong Tso lake area, Depsang and other areas.
During the current stand-off, the first clash was recorded at Galwan valley on night of May 5-6.
The next stand-off took place at the north bank of Pangong Tso lake on May 10-11, near Finger 4, one of the mountainous spurs that jut out into the lake.
China had constructed a metalled road upto ‘Finger 4’ and set up defensive positions. Indian troops used to earlier regularly patrol till ‘finger 8’, but are now limited to ‘finger 4’ due to the new Chinese intrusion into the area.
India asserts that the Line of Actual Control passes through ‘Finger 8’, while China’s claim line is based at ‘Finger 2’.
While the earlier stand-offs had been on the northern bank along the ‘Fingers’, this is the first time during the current crisis that the southern bank has also publicly become an area of dispute.
The Indian Express had reported in June that China was “massing troops” on the southern bank of the lake, with a reciprocal response from the Indian side.