India, China face off at disputed border despite peace deal
25 Jun 2020 – 17:36
An Indian fighter jet flies over Leh, the joint capital of the union territory of Ladakh, on June 25, 2020. AFP / Tauseef MUSTAFA
Indian and Chinese troops remain in a standoff at their contested Himalayan border, days after both sides promised peace following their worst military clash in 45 years.
About 50 square kilometers of land earlier controlled by India in the Pangong Tso area — a glacial lake at about 14,000 feet in the Tibetan plateau — is now being held by the Chinese, Indian officials with knowledge of the matter said. Both sides lay claim to the area in the Ladakh region including the Galwan valley that witnessed fierce fighting earlier this month, which led to the killing of 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese troops.
There is another incursion in the Depsang Plains – about 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the Galwan river – where Chinese troops have pitched tents and other infrastructure, the officials said, asking not to be identified citing rules on speaking to the media.
According to some Indian media reports high resolution satellite images appear to show Chinese structures on both sides of the shared border in the Galwan valley that were previously not there.
China’s foreign ministry didn’t immediately respond when contacted for comment on a public holiday. India on Thursday accused Chinese forces for the escalation of tension and the violence on the border.
“The conduct of Chinese forces this year has been in complete disregard of all mutually agreed norms,” said India’s foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivasatava in New Delhi . “The deployment of large body of troops and changes in behavior has also been aggravated by unjustified and untenable claims.”
The fresh round of border tensions comes after a commander-level meeting on Monday between the two nations ended with an agreement to de-escalate the situation in Ladakh and to disengage from all areas in the region. For more than six weeks now, soldiers from India and China have been engaged in a stand-off at least two locations along the Line of Actual Control — the 3,488 kilometer (2,167 mile) unmarked boundary between them, and have rushed additional troops to the border.
The officials said the presence of Chinese troops at Pangong Tso allows them easy access to routes used by the People’s Liberation Army in the 1962 India-China war to enter southern Ladakh which witnessed bitter fights during the short conflict. Similarly, troops along Galwan River Valley and Depsang Plains could eventually threaten India’s control over 100 square kilometers of land including the crucial Karakorum Pass in the north.
If the Chinese military is now in control of the Galwan Valley, then it can threaten the road to Daulet Beg Oldie, which is a major concern, said Ian Hall, professor of international relations at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, and author of ‘Modi and the Reinvention of Indian Foreign Policy.’
“This crisis is not over, and it is going to take a combination of military resolve and diplomatic finesse to keep the situation stable, hold India’s line, and avoid a political backlash at home,” Hall said. “The sheer aggression shown by the Chinese military must have shaken the government, as it has the Indian public.”
Daulat Beg Oldie, an Indian military post in the Karakoram mountains, is crucial for supplies to its soldiers posted at the world’s highest battlefield on the inhospitable Siachen Glacier in the Himalayas.
Longer term, Modi will need to spend more money on military modernization and align India more closely with the U.S. and its allies, Hall said. “The hedging approach, combined with the informal summits, has clearly not worked with Xi’s China.”
“Army is aware of the position on the ground,” Indian army spokesman Aman Anand said. “Talks are on between the two sides to deescalate.” He gave no other details.