India and China continue talks to defuse tensions, but spar over trigger for violent border clash

Both sides were in agreement on defusing tensions in the Ladakh region. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW DELHI - India and China refused to back down from competing territorial claims while stepping up diplomatic efforts to "cool down the situation on the ground" following violent clashes in which at least 20 Indian soldiers were killed in eastern Ladakh region.

Both sides continued to blame the other for the violent clash on Monday night, indicating no immediate resolution of territorial differences would take place.

Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar spoke on the phone with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, but press releases from both sides on the conversation highlighted the differences in perception of what triggered the clashes between Indian and Chinese soldiers in the Galwan Valley.

Mr Wang asked India to "severely punish" those responsible for the Galwan incident and sought a thorough investigation, accusing Indian soldiers of transgressing into Chinese territory and provoking Chinese soldiers, according to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Indian Ministry of External Affairs said Mr Jaishankar had registered a strong protest.

"The Chinese side sought to erect a structure in Galwan valley on our side of the LAC. While this became a source of dispute, the Chinese side took pre-meditated and planned action that was directly responsible for the resulting violence and casualties," it said, referring to the Line of Actual Control.

Still, both sides were in agreement on defusing tensions in the Ladakh region.

The two countries also agreed to "cool down the situation on the ground as soon as possible, and maintain peace and tranquillity in the border area in accordance with the agreement reached so far between the two countries", said the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Both sides are also seen to be maintaining an aggressive posture with an eye on the domestic audience.

Soldiers from India's Border Security Force manning a checkpoint on a highway in Gagangeer in Kashmir's Ganderbal district, which leads to Ladakh, yesterday. PHOTO: REUTERS Top: Activists of the hardline Hindu organisation Bajrang Dal holding daggers
Activists of the hardline Hindu organisation Bajrang Dal holding daggers and shouting slogans during a protest against China, in Jammu, India, on June 17, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

In India, amid domestic expectations of a muscular response to China and a rise in nationalistic rhetoric against China, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he wanted peace but maintained the "martyrdom" of Indian soldiers would not go in vain.

"India wants peace but when instigated, India is capable of giving a befitting reply, be it any kind of situation," he said.

"India doesn't provoke. But no compromise to India's sovereignty and integrity will be tolerated."

Four Indian soldiers who were said to be critically injured were stable, said the army.

China has so far refused to reveal casualty figures amid reports in India quoting unnamed US intelligence sources of at least 35 casualties.

The two countries, which went to war in 1962, have disputes along several areas of their undemarcated border, which has remained largely peaceful for the last 45 years.

The current row erupted last month, a little over 40 days ago, after India accused China of changing the status quo in the region and moving into parts of territory that have for a long time been under Indian control.

In spite of aggressive posturing, statements indicated neither side wanted an escalation of tensions, which could potentially lead to a limited war, particularly at a time when both countries are grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.

China has seen a recurrence of cases in Beijing, while India has seen a continuous increase in cases.

Indian paramilitary soldiers stand guard at check post at Gagangeer on June 17, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Still, within India, questions are now being raised over whether protocols, including a mechanism for military talks, need to be revisited.

Patrolling between the two countries increases during summer, when the high-altitude area becomes accessible. Minor clashes do routinely occur since there is no clear demarcation.

But Indian analysts have noted that this border row was a departure from the past in its efforts to redraw the understanding of the LAC and the mobilisation of heavy military equipment.

"The situation on the India-China border is serious. Scores of soldiers on both sides have died. The situation needs to be de-escalated and the underlying issues addressed through dialogue," said Mr Gautam Bambawale, former Indian ambassador to Bhutan, Pakistan and China.

"India is sure to undertake a re-appraisal and then re-calibration of its China policy to reflect the new realities. China has broken all the tenets of the many agreements it signed with India on maintaining peace and tranquillity in the border areas."

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