India has accused China of trying to change the “status quo” by making “exaggerated and untenable” claims of sovereignty over the disputed Galwan Valley, after soldiers from both nations were involved in a deadly brawl in the hotly contested region this week.
- China hasn’t revealed its number of deaths but claims India provoked the attack
- Indian PM Modi said the death of Indian troops “would not be in vain”
- The two nuclear-armed Asian giants have agreed to dialogue to resolve tensions
India has reported 20 Indian soldiers, including a colonel, have died of severe injuries in the dispute on Monday night local time.
Indian news outlet ANI cited unnamed sources saying at least 43 Chinese troops were dead or seriously injured.
Chinese officials and media have admitted to casualties but so far remained silent on the number of deaths.
When questioned regarding the number of Chinese casualties, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said: “The border troops of the two sides are dealing with the specifics on the ground.”
Hu Xijin, editor of the nationalistic Chinese-state owned Global Times, said in a Weibo post the Chinese side had sustained casualties.
“According to the information I got from the people who are familiar with the matter at my urgent request, our side also suffered casualties,” he wrote, without providing further detail.
China and India accused each other of instigating the conflict.
China said Indian forces carried out “provocative attacks” on its troops.
“Shockingly, on June 15, the Indian troops … crossed the LAC [Line of Actual Control] for illegal activities, and provoked and attacked Chinese personnel, which caused violent physical clashes between the two sides, causing casualties,” Mr Zhao said.
India, however, levelled the blame on “an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo there”, with Indian media reports saying Indian officials tried to dismantle a tent on the Line of Actual Control that overlooked Indian positions.
“Both sides have agreed that the overall situation should be handled in a responsible manner,” a statement from India’s Ministry of External Affairs said.
“Making exaggerated and untenable claims is contrary to this understanding.”
Former Indian army Colonel Ajay Shukla referred to the “aggressiveness that the Chinese have displayed on the ground”.
“It was completely savage.”
The former Colonel has been highly critical of the Modi Government’s handling of the conflict, saying it has tried and failed to use appeasement.
“The Government is now probably waking up to the seriousness and gravity of the situation,” he said.
Indian officials said soldiers were hit with rocks and clubs studded with nails during the brawl that erupted in the remote Galwan Valley, high in the mountains where India’s Ladakh region borders the Aksai Chinese region captured by China during the 1962 war.
Under an old agreement between the two nuclear-armed Asian giants, no shots are to be fired at the border, where both countries claim vast swathes of each other’s territory along the Himalayan border.
A night-time brawl broke out and lasted hours, according to local media reports, while some soldiers lost their footing and plunged to their deaths in the steep mountain terrain.
Nathan Ruser, a researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said satellite imagery showed brewing tensions.
“We’ve seen both sides set up military positions a lot closer to the demarcation line, and a lot closer to each other,” he told the ABC.
“In the Galwan Valley, a lot of the Chinese advances have been into a valley that allows them to set up positions into a ridgeline that looks over Indian positions.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a speech Wednesday that: “India wants peace but is capable of giving a befitting reply.”
He has called a meeting of India’s major political parties on Friday to discuss the China situation.
Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi held phone talks with Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on Wednesday, urging the Indian side to thoroughly investigate the clash on the border of the two countries, the Chinese Foreign Ministry reported.
In response to a query on the statement by the Chinese side that the sovereignty of the Galwan Valley area belongs to China, the official spokesperson Anurag Srivastava reiterated the two sides had a phone conversation about the recent developments in Ladakh.
An editorial in the nationalistic state-owned Global Times, a Chinese Government mouthpiece, said: “We believe Indian society should wake up from its geopolitical fantasy” and “view China pragmatically”.
Funerals for Indian soldiers underway
As funerals for the 20 soldiers killed in the brawl commenced, protesters gathered outside the Chinese embassy in New Delhi and in other cities across India, with many burning photos of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“We have assembled here to pay our respects, the way they gave their lives fighting bravely,” said Ashok Goel from among the crowds.
“Today all of the country is standing with them, with their families.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi led a two-minute silence for the Indian soldiers who lost their lives and said India would “defend every stone, every inch of its territory”.
“For us, the unity and sovereignty of the country is the most important.”
A further escalation should not be ruled out, said Pravin Sawhney, a military expert and editor of FORCE, a monthly magazine focused on national security.
“They [China] are fully prepared for it,” he said.
“On the other hand, India’s response has been very subdued and defensive in nature. There is no immediate threat of an all-out war with China but India should be concerned about an exit strategy and I fear they have none.”