Modi remarks on Chinese incursion on the border stoke debate, controversy

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said no one had entered Indian territory or captured Indian military posts. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI - Prime Minister Narendra Modi's statement that India has not ceded any territory or faced intrusions from China has triggered an intense debate within India amid concerns it could weaken India's negotiating position with China.

It also led to a clarification from the Prime Minister's Office.

At a meeting with opposition leaders to explain the circumstances leading up to the the violent face off on June 15 in which 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers were killed, Mr Modi said no one had entered Indian territory or captured Indian military posts

His remarks came two days after External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had told his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, in a telephone conversation that Chinese troops had tried to put up a structure in Galwan valley on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the de facto border between the two countries.

Amid the seemingly contradictory statements, the PMO in its clarification accused "some quarters" of "a mischievous interpretation." Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has been criticising the Prime Minister for not presenting clear account of events.

"As regards transgression of LAC, it was clearly stated that the violence in Galwan on 15 June arose because Chinese side was seeking to erect structures just across the LAC and refused to desist from such actions," said the statement from the PMO.

"The Prime Minister's observations that there was no Chinese presence on our side of the LAC pertained to the situation as a consequence of the bravery of our armed forces."

Still the mixed messaging from the government triggered many more questions than it answered.

Questions were raised over whether Chinese soldiers were pushed back from the spot of the violent clashes and on the content of military and diplomatic talks between the two sides if the Chinese were pushed back across the LAC.

"So confusing..." tweeted Mr Asaduddin Owaisi, MP from the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, noting that the Prime Minister's Office and External Affairs Minister seemed to be contradicting each other.

"Are Chinese still in possession of territory at patrol point 14 in Galwan Valley, where 20 bravehearts were killed? Is this territory on the Indian side of the LAC or the Chinese?"

India and China, 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 after India accused China of changing the status quo in the region and moving troops into forward positions in at least four spots along the border, including the Galwan Valley and Pangang Tso Lake.

The two countries have continued military and diplomatic talks to resolve the intrusions at Galway Valley, which both sides claim as their territory.

Some analysts warned that the prime minister's statement, in spite of the clarification, would weaken India's position in negotiations with China.

"This is an ill-considered comment from the Prime Minister. It seriously undermines India's negotiated position on the Line of Control and the territorial dispute itself," said Indian journalist and a retired Colonel of Indian Army Ajai Shukla.

"It appears to be saying all the territory occupied by Chinese troops in the last one and half months are not Indian territories. In that sense it goes back on long held positions and dilutes India's claims."

Mr Brahma Chellaney, an Indian geostrategist, tweeted: "How Modi's speech has become a Chinese propaganda coup: New Delhi has released one clarification, but it won't be the last. Undoing the damage will not be easy. The Chinese, of course, are celebrating. They have translated Modi's key words into Mandarin."

China has maintained that the Galwan Valley, which was not earlier in dispute, is a part of Chinese territory.

India has said the Chinese have no claims to the territory, which is in India.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian in a series of tweets on Saturday accused India of building fortification & barricades" on Chinese territory in Galwan in May, "roads, bridges and other facilities at the LAC in Galwan Valley" in April and on June 15 of "violently" attacking "Chinese officers" in the violent clash.

Some analysts, trying to explain the government's position, noted that India was clearly trying to find a diplomatic way out of the faceoff with China.

"Government has taken realistic view of constraints emanating from asymmetry of power with China," tweeted former foreign secretary Nirupama Rao.

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