NEW DELHI – A standoff between Indian and Chinese troops along their disputed border in the northern Himalayas shows no signs of easing. But even as the Asian giants have moved troops and heavy artillery into the region, talks are being held at the military and diplomatic levels to resolve the tensions, according to Indian officials.
“They (Chinese soldiers) are present in sizeable numbers,” Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh told an Indian television channel on Tuesday, confirming the presence of a substantial number of troops along the border. “Whatever needs to be done, India has also done.”
The main faceoff centers around the Galwan Valley and the Pangong Tso Lake in Ladakh, which controls access to several strategic points on their Himalayan border.
Officials in New Delhi have told local media that Chinese soldiers entered Indian territory at three different points, erecting tents and guard posts prompting India to shore up its presence.
Indian analysts say the trigger for the latest flare-up between the two countries is the building of infrastructure such as roads in the border region by New Delhi.
“The government has speeded up border construction activities, road building, reactivated airports, which Chinese are not able to digest maybe,” says P. Stobdan, a former diplomat and expert on India-China affairs. “So accessibility for Indian troops to the border has gone up and patrolling in the area has also gone up.”
The border tensions between the Asian giants have escalated since early May when a scuffle broke out between Indian and Chinese soldiers at Pangong Tso Lake in Ladakh injuring several soldiers.
The troop build-up is the most serious since 2017 when the armies of two Asian countries were locked in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation for two-and-a-half months near the tri-junction point between India, China and Bhutan. That standoff, sparked by Chinese soldiers building a road that could have potentially compromised Indian security, was eventually resolved through diplomatic talks.
Several stretches of the nearly 3,500-kilometer-long India-China border, or what is called the “Line of Actual Control,” are undemarcated. As troops from both sides patrol the border, scuffles due to differing perceptions of what marks each one’s territory erupt occasionally between soldiers but are usually settled by local military commanders.
The latest flare-up, however, is far more serious.
“They claim that it is their territory. Our claim is that it is our area. There has been a disagreement over it,” Minister Singh said referring to the current military standoff.
He expressed hope that the dispute will be settled through negotiations. “What can be better if it can be resolved through talks?” But he has also said that India will not let “its pride be hurt.”
Beijing has not officially acknowledged any additional recent deployment of forces to the India-China border. However the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian described the overall situation along the border as “stable and controllable” at a regular press briefing on Monday.
“Between China and India, there are unimpeded channels for border-related communication in diplomatic and military fields. We believe the issues can be resolved after bilateral negotiations and consultations,” he said.
Trump talks to Indian prime minister
The situation along the India-China border was among several issues discussed during a telephone conversation on Tuesday between U.S. President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to India’s foreign ministry.
Senior U.S. officials have also weighed in on the border tensions between the two countries. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the American Enterprise Institute on Monday that China’s moving of troops to the line of actual control echoed similarly heavy-handed behaviour over the coronavirus, South China Sea and Hong Kong. “These are the kind of actions that authoritarian regimes take,” he told the think tank in remarks released by the State Department.
Expressing concern about the “ongoing Chinese aggression” on the India-China border, the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Eliot L. Engel, said in a recent statement that “China is demonstrating once again that it is willing to bully its neighbors rather than resolve conflicts according to international law.”
Senior Indian military commanders are expected to hold talks on Saturday to discuss the situation.
“India is standing up, sticking to its position. Hopefully the tensions will be deescalated, but who knows,” says former ambassador Stobdan.