As many as 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a “violent face-off” with Chinese troops at Galwan Valley in Ladakh, the army said today while news agency ANI reported that Indian retaliation killed or injured 43 Chinese soldiers — in the most serious escalation between the two countries in five decades along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh.
The Indian Army has not yet spoken about Chinese casualties in numbers, though. The official statement this morning from the army confirmed the death of a colonel and two jawans. It also informed the press about “casualties on both sides”.
India attributed the clashes to “an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo there” whereas China claims that Indian soldiers crossed the border.
Col B Santosh Babu of the Bihar Regiment, Havildar Palani and Sepoy Ojha laid down their lives in the line of duty, the army confirmed today: “17 Indian troops who were critically injured in the line of duty at the stand-off location and exposed to sub-zero temperatures in the high altitude terrain have succumbed to their injuries. Indian Army is firmly committed to protect(ing) the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the nation,” the army’s statement tonight said.
However, the army also says Indian and Chinese troops “have disengaged” at the Galwan area. This was where they had clashed in the intervening night of 15 and 16 June. Sources say fresh violence in the area is not expected as of now.
India said the clash arose from “an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo” on the border. “India is very clear that all its activities are always within the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control. We expect the same of the Chinese side,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Anurag Shrivastava.
It was first a skirmish shorn of arms and armaments. As Chinese troops were getting ready to move away from a location in accordance with an agreement reached in the recent talks between the two sides to defuse tension, they assaulted the Indian colonel with stones. Indian soldiers retaliated. It was close, unarmed combat that lasted several hours. The soldiers disengaged after midnight.
Beijing, however, accused India of crossing the border and “attacking Chinese personnel”. China’s Foreign Ministry said India should not take unilateral actions or stir up the trouble while senior journalists from different parts of the world pooh-poohed this new kind of ‘journalism’ where statements from the Chinese media were attributed to Beijing.
The reference was to Chinese government mouthpiece Global Times saying, “Based on what I know, (the) Chinese side also suffered casualties in the Galwan Valley physical clash. I want to tell the Indian side, don’t be arrogant and misread China’s restraint as being weak. China doesn’t want to have a clash with India, but we don’t fear it.” This was a tweet from Hu Xijin, Editor-in-Chief of Global Times.
In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held meetings with Home Minister Amit Shah. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh met military chiefs twice. The top Indian political executive discussed a response to the escalation.
For about a month-and-a-half, soldiers from both sides are in a position of conflict at three locations along the LoAC — the 3,488 km de-facto boundary between India and China — such as the Galwan River, where a similar clash had sparked off the 1962 India-China war, and at the Pangong Tso, a glacial lake at 14,000 feet in the Tibetan plateau. The third point is Hot Springs.
The conflict claiming the lives of 63 soldiers notwithstanding, the Indian as well as Chinese armies were pulling back their troops from the Galwan valley, PP-15 and Hot Springs.
Meanwhile, French news agency AFP reported that the Chinese troops remained in parts of the Galwan valley and of the northern shore of the Pangong Tso. This caused the clash, the agency said.
Sources in China say it is upset about the Indian construction of roads and airstrips in the area. The government in India is actually trying to improve connectivity in the border regions, which post-1962 governments had deliberately left in utter neglect due to the curious belief that better road connectivity in the area would help China invade India easily!
By 2022, the Narendra Modi government plans to complete 66 key roads along the Chinese border. One of these roads is near the Galwan valley that connects to Daulat Beg Oldi airbase, which was inaugurated last October.