India rejects as untenable Chinese claim on Ladakh’s Galwan valley
India on Thursday squarely blamed China for the standoff along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), saying Beijing had massed troops along the disputed frontier since May, violated a recent understanding to disengage in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley and disregarded all mutually agreed norms for border patrols.
The Indian position on the months-old standoff was outlined in a lengthy and sharply worded statement from the external affairs ministry as tensions simmered due to the continuing Chinese military build-up in several sections of the LAC, especially in Ladakh, which has been the focus of the face-off.
While accusing China of triggering several face-offs by trying to unilaterally change the status quo along the LAC, the Indian side also rejected the Chinese side’s “unjustified and untenable” claim on the Galwan Valley. The statement also acknowledged both sides “remain deployed in large numbers in the region”.
The external affairs ministry’s statement came even as Chinese envoy Sun Weidong said in an interview to PTI that the onus wasn’t on his country to resolve the border standoff. Sun said he hoped the Indian side would meet the Chinese side halfway and avoid any actions that could complicate the situation.
The Indian side, external affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said, had clearly established that China’s actions had led to the increase in tensions and the violent face-off of June 15 in the Galwan Valley that left 20 Indian soldiers dead.
Explaining the context of the standoff and the issues the two sides are trying to address, Srivastava said in a statement: “At the heart of the matter is that since early May, the Chinese side has been amassing a large contingent of troops and armaments along the LAC. This is not in accordance with the provisions of our various bilateral agreements, especially the key 1993 Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas.”
This agreement states each side will keep its military forces in areas along the LAC to a “minimum level compatible with friendly and good neighbourly relations”. Following the Chinese build-up, India had to make “counter deployments and the resulting tension has thereafter expressed itself”.
Referring to the Galwan Valley, the flashpoint in the current tensions, the statement said a meeting of corps commanders of the two sides on June 6 had agreed on a process for de-escalation and disengagement along the LAC that “involved reciprocal actions”. Both sides also agreed to “respect and abide by the LAC and not undertake any activity to alter the status quo”.
However, the Chinese side departed from these understandings on the LAC in the Galwan Valley and “sought to erect structures just across the LAC”. The statement added, “When this attempt was foiled, Chinese troops took violent actions on 15 June 2020 that directly resulted in casualties.”
Even before these actions, the Chinese side had hindered India’s normal and traditional patrolling pattern in the Galwan Valley since early May. The resulting face-off was addressed by ground commanders in line with the provisions of bilateral agreements and protocols. In mid-May, the Chinese side also sought to change the status quo in other areas of the western sector, and India registered its protest through diplomatic and military channels.
The statement said that while there were occasional departures from established mutually agreed procedures and norms for patrolling in the past, “the conduct of Chinese forces this year has been in complete disregard of all mutually agreed norms”.
Both sides had developed patterns of patrolling over many years and it is the “reasonable expectation that patrols will not be obstructed in the discharge of their legitimate duties”. However, the Indian side has experienced obstruction to patrolling that is often accompanied by efforts to unilaterally change the status quo along the LAC.
Indian troops are fully familiar with the LAC’s alignment in all sectors and abide scrupulously by it. They have also patrolled all along the LAC, including in the Galwan Valley, “for a long time”, the statement said.
“All infrastructure built by the Indian side has always been on its own side of the LAC. The Indian side has never undertaken any actions across the LAC and has never attempted to unilaterally change the status quo. However, that has not been reciprocated by the Chinese side and that from time to time has led to face-offs,” the statement added.
Peace and tranquillity in border areas is “the basis of our bilateral relationship” and it is “imperative that the established mechanisms are used by both parties to address the current situation”, the statement said.
Describing Wednesday’s meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on border affairs as “a significant development”, the Indian side also noted that the corps commanders had on June 22 discussed the implementation of understandings reached between them on June 6. The foreign ministers too agreed during a phone conversation on June 17 that the disengagement understanding of June 6 would be implemented.
People familiar with developments said India has been insisting on implementing the understanding of June 6 because it includes the removal of structures built by the Chinese along the LAC in the Galwan Valley.
“We expect the Chinese side to sincerely follow up on this understanding and ensure the expeditious restoration of peace and tranquillity in the border areas. A continuation of the current situation would only vitiate the atmosphere for the development of the relationship,” the statement said.
Former ambassador Rajiv Bhatia, a distinguished fellow for foreign policy studies at Gateway House, said while there were no immediate indications of a possible conflict between the two sides, a breakthrough on the ground would depend on the actions of the Chinese side.
“The candour on the Indian side is welcome because the public is being taken into confidence. The perception is that the army commanders have reached an accord but there is much to be desired in its implementation by the Chinese side,” he said.
“We have had talks at the level of generals and diplomats, though the level of negotiations will have to be further enhanced. We will have to wait and see, and much depends on the actual activities on the ground.”