New Delhi and Beijing engaged in a war of words Tuesday and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh chaired a meeting of the military brass after Indian troops, thwarting Chinese manoeuvres at two places in Ladakh on two different days, occupied “tactical features” for area domination.
Indian Army sources confirmed that the pre-emptive moves were undertaken at “more than one location”, largely in the areas mentioned by China in its statement: south bank of Pangong Tso and near Reqin La, not very far from Rezang La.
The Ministry of External Affairs, in a statement Tuesday evening, countered the Chinese protest and said the second incident took place Monday “even as the ground commanders of the two sides were in discussions to de-escalate the situation”. It said “Chinese troops again engaged in provocative action. Due to the timely defensive action, the Indian side was able to prevent these attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo”.
Army sources said movement of a convoy of Chinese vehicles was noticed in the Chumar sector too, but it appeared to be routine patrolling on the Chinese side, and was not a transgression attempt.
On the movement of Indian military equipment and weaponry, a senior Army officer said, “whatever was required for a particular area, those elements have been moved,” and “it would be infantry in the hills, and for the plains, the best suitable weapon platforms have been moved”.
China said it had lodged a diplomatic protest, and that Indian troops had “violated” the consensus on August 31. In a statement, Chinese embassy spokesperson Ji Rong said Indian troops “trespassed the Line of Actual Control again at the southern bank of the Pangong Tso Lake and near the Reqin Pass in the western sector of China-India border, and conducted flagrant provocations, which again stirred tension in the border areas”.
“What India has done runs counter to the efforts made by both sides for a period of time to ease and cool down the situation on the ground, and China is resolutely opposed to this,” she said.
The Chinese statement “urged the Indian side to strictly control and restrain its frontline troops, earnestly honour its commitments, immediately stop all the provocative actions, immediately withdraw its troops illegally trespassing the Line of Actual Control, immediately stop any actions leading to the escalation and complication of the situation”.
Almost identical remarks were made by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying at a press conference in Beijing.
Indian Army sources said there were no clashes between the troops of the two armies since there was no direct contact or engagement when the movements took place. The situation in the region, sources said, continues to be tense but the troops “are not in an eyeball-to-eyeball situation”.
The difference in perception of the LAC is at the centre of the boundary dispute. A second round of brigade commander-level talks took place Tuesday in Chushul, while in New Delhi, Rajnath Singh chaired a meeting attended by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, Army Chief General MM Naravane and the Director General of Military Operations.
Sources said the meeting in the Situation Room of the Ministry of Defence lasted nearly two hours. Sources said the “focus of the meeting was to understand where we are, assess the ground situation, and how advantageous a position are we in now”.
Singh will be heading to Moscow Wednesday to participate in a meeting of Defence Ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Also at the meeting, hosted by Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu, will be Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe.
On June 24, nine days after the Galwan Valley clashes, Singh and Wei had attended the military parade in Moscow to mark the 75th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.
On Sunday, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, speaking at the French Institute of International Relations, said China will not be the first to complicate or escalate the situation on the LAC. He said the boundary between China and India has not yet been demarcated, so there have been problems. He said China will firmly safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and “we are ready to manage all kinds of issues through dialogue with the Indian side”.
On Tuesday, Anurag Srivastava, spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, said the Chinese violated the understanding between the two sides and “engaged in provocative military manoeuvres in the late night of 29th and on 30th August in an attempt to change the status quo in the South Bank area of Pangong Lake. As stated yesterday by Indian Army, the Indian side responded to these provocative actions and took appropriate defensive measures along the LAC in order to safeguard our interests and defend the territorial integrity”.
“On 31st August, even as the ground commanders of the two sides were in discussions to de-escalate the situation, the Chinese troops again engaged in provocative action. Due to the timely defensive action, the Indian side was able to prevent these attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo,” he said.
“We have taken up the matter of recent provocative and aggressive actions with Chinese side through both diplomatic and military channels and have urged them to discipline and control their frontline troops from undertaking such provocative actions,” Srivastava said.