After two weeks of downplaying the intrusions by thousands of Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers into Ladakh, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has admitted that “large numbers” of Chinese troops had crossed into India’s side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) — the de facto border that both countries have mutually agreed to respect.
“It is true that Chinese soldiers (are) on the LAC. There are differences in both sides’ perceptions of where the frontier runs. And the Chinese soldiers have arrived there in large numbers,” stated Rajnath in a television interview on Tuesday.
“India is doing what it needs to do in the circumstances,” said the defence minister, while declining to spell out the measures.
Sources say that India has reacted to the surprise Chinese move by rushing troops to the main intrusion points in the Galwan River Valley in northern Ladakh and the Pangong Tso Lake in central Ladakh – where at least 5,000 PLA soldiers have entered and are preparing roads and concrete bunkers to consolidate their presence.
However, Indian troops have been instructed not to inflame the situation by attacking or outflanking PLA positions.
Rajnath voiced confidence that the festering confrontation could be resolved through military-to-military talks and diplomatic engagement between New Delhi and Beijing, as was achieved during the Doklam confrontation in 2017.
“In the current situation, military-to-military talks are underway, and there is a possibility that discussions will be held on June 6 at the level of senior military officers. I discussed this with the Army Chief today,” he said.
Rajnath emphatically refused to classify China as an enemy. He said that, while India would never hurt the self-respect and sovereignty of any country, “If anyone violates our sovereignty or tries to make India bow its head, this country would respond with force.”
Meanwhile, on the border, there has been no Chinese withdrawal or concession. The face-off continues at four locations. In the Galwan River Valley, troops are engaged in skirmishes at the junction of Galwan and Shyok rivers, Patrolling Point 14, 15, and 17 and at Gogra Top. In the Pangong Tso sector, Indian troops are in contact with the Chinese at the so-called Fox Hole Peninsula.
However, in a reverse for India, China has established full control over the Finger Heights, Green Top, Finger 4 and Finger 5. Since the LAC earlier ran along Finger 8, Chinese troops have captured the area between Finger 8 and Finger 4, moving the LAC several kilometres to the west.
In addition, over the preceding fortnight, the Chinese have black-topped the road between Finger 8 and Finger 4. The PLA had constructed a dirt track in this area in 1999 when Indian units were pulled out of this area during the Kargil conflict.
Worryingly, government sources, backed by satellite intelligence, are now reporting a large number of Chinese armoured vehicles in the Depsang area, near Daulat Beg Oldi, where Indian and Chinese troops had confronted each other for three weeks in 2013, before mutually disengaging.
Referencing that incident, as well as similar confrontations in Chumar (2014) and Doklam (2017), Singh said: “There is something constantly going on along the Sino-Indian border… sometimes there have been such tensions that firearms have been snatched between them. China should think about this seriously.”