India on Saturday again rejected China’s claim on Galwan Valley in Ladakh and reiterated that the violent clash of June 15 was triggered by Chinese efforts to build structures on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The external affairs ministry dismissed claims made by China’s foreign ministry in a statement issued late on Friday night regarding both sovereignty over Galwan Valley and the genesis of the clash on Monday night that left 20 Indian soldiers dead.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said the position with regard to Galwan Valley was “historically clear”. He added, “Attempts by the Chinese side to now advance exaggerated and untenable claims with regard to Line of Actual Control (LAC) there are not acceptable. They are not in accordance with China’s own position in the past.”
Srivastava further said the brawl of June 15 was the result of “violent actions” by Chinese troops after they were prevented by Indian soldiers from building structures on the Indian side of the LAC. He noted senior military commanders of the two sides had agreed during a meeting on June 6 on a process for de-escalation and disengagement along the LAC that “involved reciprocal actions”.
“Both sides had agreed to respect and abide by the LAC and not undertake any activity to alter the status quo. However, the Chinese side departed from these understandings in respect of the LAC in the Galwan Valley area and sought to erect structures just across the LAC. When this attempt was foiled, Chinese troops took violent actions on June 15, 2020 that directly resulted in casualties,” he said.
People familiar with developments said the term “just across the LAC” meant an intrusion into the Indian side of the disputed border but not at great depth.
During his phone conversation with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on June 17, external affairs minister S Jaishankar had conveyed India’s strong protest on “the events leading up to and on the violent face-off” on June 15. “He firmly rejected the unfounded allegations made by the Chinese side and the misrepresentation of the understandings reached between the senior [military] commanders. [Jaishankar] also underlined that it was for China to reassess its actions and take corrective steps,” Srivastava said.
The two ministers agreed the overall situation would be “handled in a responsible manner” and both sides would “sincerely” implement the disengagement understanding of June 6.
Srivastava said the two sides are in regular touch and early meetings of military and diplomatic mechanisms are currently being discussed. “We expect that the Chinese side will sincerely follow the understanding reached between the foreign ministers to ensure peace and tranquillity in the border areas, which is so essential for the overall development of our bilateral relations,” he added.
The spokesperson reiterated that Indian troops scrupulously abide by the alignment of the LAC in all sectors, including in Galwan Valley, and the Indian side has “never undertaken any actions across the LAC”. He added Indian troops “have been patrolling” Galwan Valley for a long time without any incident and all infrastructure built by the Indian side is on its side of the LAC.
However, Srivastava said that since early May, the Chinese side had hindered India’s normal and traditional patrolling pattern in Galwan Valley and this resulted in a face-off that was addressed by ground commanders in line with bilateral agreements and protocols. “We do not accept the contention that India was unilaterally changing the status quo. On the contrary, we were maintaining it,” he said.
In mid-May, the Chinese side “attempted to transgress the LAC in other areas of the Western Sector” of border areas and these attempts were “invariably met with an appropriate response” from the Indian side. The two sides then engaged in discussions through diplomatic and military channels to address the situation.
Late on Friday, China claimed Galwan Valley was on the Chinese side of the LAC and had been patrolled by its troops for “many years”. The claim was made in what was described as a “step by step account of the Galwan clash” by Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian.
China’s People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) western command had in a statement issued on Tuesday initially claimed the region, saying: “The sovereignty of the Galwan River Valley has always been ours.”
On Thursday, Srivastava had dismissed the PLA’s claim as “exaggerated and untenable”.
The so-called “step by step account” by Zhao had further claimed that since April, Indian troops had “unilaterally and continuously built roads, bridges and other facilities at the LAC in the Galwan Valley”. He added that “India has gone even further to cross the LAC and make provocations”.
Zhao claimed that on June 15, Indian troops “once again crossed the Line of Actual Control for deliberate provocation…and even violently attacked the Chinese officers and soldiers who went there for negotiation, thus triggering fierce physical conflicts and causing casualties”.
Air Vice Marshal (retired) Manmohan Bahadur, additional director general of the Centre for Air Power Studies and a helicopter pilot with extensive experience of operations along the LAC, said: “When I first flew in that area in 1978, the maps clearly showed the Galwan Valley as Indian territory. The LAC was well east of the confluence of the Shyok and Galwan rivers.
“There was never any question about the Galwan Valley and China’s claim on this region is untenable. There was no Chinese activity in the area, or we would have been briefed accordingly. It was well inside our side of the LAC.”