Ladakh stand-off: India, China continue to stand ground
: India on Thursday said it is engaged with China at the diplomatic and military levels to end a border standoff involving thousands of troops even as it tacitly ruled out any possibility of US mediation to end the face-off.
The ground situation remained unchanged and neither side had lowered its guard at the four standoff points n the Ladakh sector’s Galwan Valley and Pangong Tso areas, HT has learnt.Both sides are holding firms and it is not possible to indicate at this time when the status quo ante will be restored, people familiar with the developments said.
Since tensions flared along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) after violent clashes involving hundreds of soldiers in Sikkim and Ladakh sectors early this month, both sides have deployed additional soldiers, especially in Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh. India has said it will oppose any unilateral attempts to alter the status quo along the LAC.
Faced with a flurry of questions on the standoff and whether India agreed with China’s characterisation of the situation as “stable and controllable”, external affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava told a virtual news briefing that both sides are engaged at different levels to address tensions, but New Delhi will make no compromises on sovereignty and national security.
Asked specifically about US President Donald Trump’s offer on Wednesday to mediate between India and China and whether New Delhi had sought such arbitration, Srivastava appeared to rule out any role for a third party by saying: “As I’ve told you, we are engaged with the Chinese side to peacefully resolve this issue.”
India and China, he said, have established mechanisms at military and diplomatic levels to peacefully resolve situations that may arise in border areas through dialogue, and “continue to remain engaged through these channels”.
Srivastava reiterated India’s contention that its troops had not violated the LAC, a charge levelled by China soon after the standoff became public.
“India is committed to the objective of maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the border areas with China and our armed forces scrupulously follow the consensus reached by our leaders and the guidance provided. At the same time, we remain firm in our resolve to ensuring India’s sovereignty and national security,” he said.
The Indian troops, he added, have a “very responsible approach towards border management and strictly follow the procedures laid out in various bilateral agreements and protocols with China to resolve any issue that may arise in the border areas”.
These include five agreements signed by India and China in the past two decades – the 1993 Agreement on Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the LAC in the India-China border areas, the 1996 Agreement on Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field along the LAC, the 2005 Protocol on Modalities for the implementation of the Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field, the 2012 Agreement on establishment of a working mechanism for consultation and coordination on India-China Border Affairs, and the 2013 Border Defence Cooperation Agreement.
Srivastava did not give a direct response to questions on Chinese troops establishing a presence on the Indian side of the LAC and the level at which diplomatic engagements were underway, and only said: “Our engagement at the diplomatic level also continues between both sides, both in Delhi as well as in Beijing.”
People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity the envoys of both countries were playing a key role in these engagements.
China’s ambassador to India, Sun Weidong, had on Wednesday called for putting ties back on an even keel. Without referring to the standoff, he told a webinar the two sides “pose no threat to each other” and should “never let the differences shadow the overall…bilateral cooperation”. He also said they should seek “understanding through communication”.
The seemingly conciliatory approach articulated by the Chinese side has not yet been reflected in the ground situation. Three of the standoff points are located around the Galwan Valley and the fourth, near Pangong lake. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army had moved soldiers to close to these four standoff points that are seen to be an effort to stop India from upgrading its border infrastructure, particularly a 60-metre-long bridge across the Galwan rivulet and an observation post near the Pangong lake.
The Indian army has deployed reinforcements at the four standoff points without halting work on the border infrastructure work including the concrete Galwan bridge being built as part of a 255-km road to access Daulat Beg Oldie, the last military post south of the Karakoram Pass.
“Nobody can question India’s right to build roads, bridges or airfields in its own territory. The infrastructure upgrade is continuing and will not be paused in eastern Ladakh,” an Indian official said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had reviewed the situation along the LAC at a high-level meeting this week. National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, foreign minister S Jaishankar and Chief of Defence Services General Bipin Rawat are overseeing the Indian efforts at multiple levels. On their radar is also the activity on the western border with Islamabad after reports that the Pakistan army had moved troops in the neighbouring Gilgit Baltistan region that it illegally occupies.
The army, which has matched the Chinese PLA, in terms of manpower and resources at the standoff points, is prepared for a long haul and has inducted more troops in the theatre. Another set of soldiers are undergoing an acclimatization process to give the soldiers posted at the standoff sites a break before returning.
Officials said China on the other hand, has also beefed up its defences in the Aksai Chin area, to handle both ground and aerial adversaries.
It has upgraded its dual-use military and civil airfield at Ngari Günsa airport about 60 km from the LAC as part of this exercise where the PLA’s air force has been flying J 11 jets, widely considered to be China’s version of the Russian Sukhoi 27 fighters.