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New Delhi: China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has once again crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh, a report in Business Standard said, adding that there was “at least one clash” between the two armies.
Defence analyst Ajai Shukla said that the clash took place near the Galwan river, close to where 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a violent clash in June last year. He said it was unclear if there had been any casualties in the new clash.
In an interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, Shukla revealed that the clash happened on May 2 and that theoretically, there could have been casualties on both sides.
The Indian Army has denied the claims made in the Business Standard report, saying, “Ever since the disengagement agreement in February this year, there has been no attempt by either side to occupy the areas from where the disengagement had been undertaken. There have been no clashes in Galwan or any other area, as reported in the article.”
The Army also said that the report’s claim that agreements with China have collapsed is “false and baseless”.
“Both sides have continued with negotiations to resolve the balance issues, and regular patrolling in respective areas continues. The situation on ground continues to be as hithertofore. PLA activities, including turnover of troops continue to be monitored by the Indian Army,” the statement said.
The BS report said that the PLA had reoccupied many places on the South Bank of Pangong Tso, like those in the Kailash Range, which they had previously vacated as per the disengagement agreement.
The Army’s denial comes as external affairs minister S. Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi are scheduled to meet in Dushanbe on Wednesday.
The Business Standard report said that the confrontation between the two armies took place when PLA soldiers set up a tent at the bend into the Galwan river, near patrolling point 14, which India demanded to be removed as it was in the buffer area.
The report said that during the winter, though the PLA had withdrawn from many of the positions it had occupied on the Indian side of the LAC in summer 2020, “the freeze of winter gave way to renewed confrontation in April 2021”. It was then that Chinese drones began entering Indian airspace in large numbers, the report said.
“In May-June, Indian patrols in Demchok and Chumar, in southern Ladakh, reported an increased presence of PLA [Chinese People’s Liberation Army] men in civilian clothes,” Shukla’s report says. “In mid-May, without Indian provocation, the PLA began re-occupying many of the positions that had been vacated, boosting tensions and triggering counter deployments by the Indian Army.”
The story says that the PLA may have deployed two regiments of the Russian S-400 air defence missiles, which could erode India’s superiority in air power. The defence system has the capability to shoot down Indian aircraft up to 400 km away.
Other reports have also suggested that the PLA was strengthening near the LAC, though none of them mentioned a clash. An India Today report said that satellite imagery shows that China’s winter deployment positions have been “reinforced with permanent structures, accommodations and military buildings in a long arc through the Aksai Chin bulge”.
The Business Standard report says that New Delhi assesses that Depsang is the central Chinese objective, as it provides Indian soldiers with a route to China’s road G-219, which connects Tibet with Xinjiang.
“It also provides the PLA and the Pakistan Army with complementary thrust lines on which they can simultaneously advance and link up. This would cut off India’s northern tip, including the Karakoram Pass, DBO [Daulat Beg Oldie] and the Siachen Glacier Sector,” the BS report says.
Shukla stands by his story
In the interview to Karan Thapar, Shukla stood by his reportage, saying his sources are “absolutely sure” that the Chinese have reoccupied Black Top and Helmet on the Kailash Range and that his sources have given him specific details.
To the Army’s statement that the article is “riddled with inaccuracies and misinformation”, Shukla said the statement simply asserts there are inaccuracies but does not give even one example.
On the Army denial that there have not been any attempts by either side to occupy the areas from where the disengagement has been undertaken, Shukla says even last year, when the Chinese were at various points encroaching on Indian territory in eastern Ladakh, “the initial response from the army and the Ministry of Defence was silence and denial”.
He told Karan Thapar that only after he broke the story that “hesitant confirmation started to emerge” and that the same pattern is being repeated this year.
Note: This article was updated to include details of Ajai Shukla’s interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire.