India on Tuesday accused Chinese troops of resorting to “provocative action” even as military commanders were holding talks on Monday to ease fresh tensions near Pangong Lake, underscoring the deep mistrust dogging the disengagement process along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The latest development follows the two sides trading charges of trespassing the LAC on the southern bank of Pangong Lake since the weekend, complicating the de-escalation process that has stalled at key friction points, including Depsang and Gogra.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said that “even as the ground commanders of the two sides were in discussions to de-escalate the situation” that arose from the face-off on the southern bank of Pangong Lake, “Chinese troops again engaged in provocative action”.
Without elaborating on the provocative action, he added: “Due to the timely defensive action, the Indian side was able to prevent these attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo [along the LAC].”
Srivastava reiterated India’s assertion that Chinese troops violated the understanding reached by the two sides in diplomatic and military talks on resolving the standoff when they engaged in “provocative military manoeuvres” during August 29-30 in an “attempt to change the status quo” on the southern bank of Pangong Lake.
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,” he said.
Statements issued by both India and China also make it clear that there was a string of incidents between August 29 and 31 — the Indian side talked about the PLA carrying out “provocative military movements to change the status quo” during August 29-30, while China’s western theatre command claimed the Indian side had “broken the consensus” on August 31.
The Indian Army has occupied key heights on the lake’s southern bank to prevent the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from grabbing territory on the Indian side of the LAC during a stealthy midnight manoeuvre on August 29, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity.
The PLA’s fresh provocative action on Monday was targeted at the heights held by Indian troops, the people added.
Indian troops are holding a series of positions near Black Top, a hill feature, and on Rezang and Reqin passes, which are on the Indian side of the LAC and allow the army to dominate the area and keep an eye on Chinese military activity. Specialist mountain troops played a key role in taking these heights and one of them was killed in a landmine blast.
The people cited above said China triggered the latest face-off through its efforts to occupy dominant positions on the southern back of Pangong Lake, which was hitherto not seen as a friction point as it was under effective control of the Indian side. The tensions in this sector were earlier confined to the Finger Area on the lake’s northern bank.
The two sides were now attempting to take dominating positions before colder weather conditions start setting in, making large-scale troop movements and logistics more difficult, the people added.
Srivastava said all military and diplomatic engagements over the past three months, including discussions between the two foreign ministers and the two Special Representatives on the border issue, resulted in an agreement that the “situation should be handled in a responsible manner and either side should not take any provocative action or escalate matters”.
He added, “The actions and behaviour of the Chinese side since earlier this year along the LAC has been in clear violation of the bilateral agreements and protocols concluded between the two countries to ensure peace and tranquillity on the border. Such actions are also in complete disregard to the understandings reached between the two foreign ministers as also the Special Representatives.”
The Indian side has taken up the “recent provocative and aggressive actions” with the Chinese side through diplomatic and military channels and “urged them to discipline and control their frontline troops from undertaking such provocative actions,” he said.
While the India side is committed to resolving all outstanding issues along the LAC through peaceful dialogue, it expects China to abide by the understanding reached earlier and “earnestly work with India to resolve the situation,” Srivastava said.
The Chinese embassy in New Delhi, through a statement, reiterated Beijing’s contention that Indian troops “violated the consensus” and trespassed the LAC on the southern bank of Pangong Lake and near Reqin pass. “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,” it said.
The statement called on India to “withdraw its troops illegally trespassing” the LAC and “immediately stop any actions leading to the escalation and complication of the situation”.
Strategic affairs analyst Brahma Chellaney said India’s options were narrowing and the contraction of the economy by almost 25% in the quarter ended June would further reduce the space for military options, and this might embolden the Chinese.
“Therefore, last weekend’s activity was essentially a defensive move to occupy vacant heights on the Indian side of the LAC, otherwise, the PLA could have seized those heights just as they have done at other places,” he said.
“The Chinese are sitting pretty on land grabs they have made and they have moved to the second stage, which is consolidation. This is not just strengthening their gains but also deterring India from initiating any counter-action by securing their core territorial gains and enlarging their footprint in areas around the land grabs,” he added.
Border tensions between India and China flared up in the aftermath of a clash in eastern Ladakh’s Galwan Valley on June 15 — the first deadly conflict between soldiers of the two sides along the LAC in 45 years. The clash resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers, including a commanding officer, and an undisclosed number of Chinese soldiers.