20 India soldiers dead in worst military clash with China in 45 years

China too faces heavy casualties, war fears loom

Photo: A 1967 image of the Sino-India soldiers clashing at the de facto borders.

(Editor’s Note: The story was updated with ANI’s tweet on Chinese military casualties in paragraph 6.)

New Delhi: As the world grapples with the battle against COVID-19, it is staring at the worst military conflict in 45 years between India and China at borders in Ladakh. after 20 Indian Army soldiers were dead and China faced over 40 casualties in a violent clash on the intervening night of yesterday and today.

As the casualty figures and the details of the clash between the two armies at Galwan valley in eastern part of the Union Territory of Ladakh began trickling in since midday today, Indian citizens went into a shock and were debating what India’s response would be to this killing of Indian soldiers by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and if there would be a war between the two Asian giants.

Already, the nation was debating China’s Global Times publishing an angry editorial today against Indian strategic affairs experts, who had sought a rethink on the ‘One China’ policy of the Indian government at a webinar hosted by Defence.Capital in association with Law and Society Alliance last Friday. You can read the summary of the webinar here.

“Indian and Chinese troops have disengaged at the Galwan area where they had earlier clashed on the night of 15/16 June 2020,” an Indian Army statement said late in the evening.

“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, taking the total that were killed in action to 20. Indian Army is firmly committed to protect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the nation,” it said.

The Chinese casualty figure was given by Indian military sources after an interception of PLA’s radio communication, according to Asian News International from New Delhi.

Earlier in the day, the Indian Army put out an interim statement that a Commanding Officer and two soldiers of an Indian Army infantry battalion were killed in the Monday night clashes along with casualties on the Chinese side, and that there were talks between local military commanders at the spot to defuse the situation.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), with the mandate to speak on matters China, angrily blamed China for violating the consensus to respect the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh after the Indian military personnel were killed in the bloody clash with the Chinese troops.

There were casualties on the Chinese side, though the PLA or its Foreign Ministry did not give out any numbers officially.

The Indian MEA said the “violent face-off happened as a result of an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo” in Galwan valley.

“Both sides suffered casualties that could have been avoided had the agreement at the higher level been scrupulously followed by the Chinese side,” India’s MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said.

“While it was our expectation that the agreement would unfold smoothly, the Chinese side departed from the consensus to respect the LAC in the Galwan Valley,” he said.

The two armies have been involved in a face off over the past few weeks amid attempts from both the governments to defuse tension along the LAC in the Galwan Valley area after the PLA rushed troops, pitched tents and built defence structures on the Indian side of the LAC.

Delegations of the two armies, besides diplomats, had met on June 6 and June 10 to work out a de-escalation of the situation but the events of Monday night, the first violent incident involving fatalities between India and China since 1975, sent waves of anger across the country in a grim reminder of the 1962 border war.

“While it was our expectation that the agreement would unfold smoothly, the Chinese side departed from the consensus to respect the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Galwan Valley,” he said.

The three soldiers killed included Colonel B. Santosh Babu of the Bihar Regiment from Telangana and Havildar Palani from Tamil Nadu and Sepoy Ojha from Jharkhand.

The clashes rang alarm bells in the Indian establishment with defence minister Rajnath Singh holding parleys with Minister of External Affairs Dr S. Jaishankar, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat and Chief of Army Staff General Manoj Mukund Naravane to review the situation.

As senior military officials of the two sides sat down again at the border to defuse the situation, an Indian Army statement said: “During the de-escalation process underway in the Galwan Valley, a violent face-off took place yesterday night with casualties on both sides. The loss of lives on the Indian side includes an officer and two soldiers.”

India reiterated it was committed to peace along the LAC and resolution of border disputes through dialogue but was fully prepared to protect its territorial integrity.

“Given its responsible approach to border management, India is very clear that all its activities are always within the Indian side of the LAC. We expect the same of the Chinese side,” said Srivastava, as he urged China to honour its assurances.

As expected, China blamed India for the incident.

“Our border troops had a high-level meeting and reached important consensus on easing the border situation. But astonishingly on June 15, the Indian troops seriously violated our consensus and twice crossed the border line for illegal activities and provoked and attacked Chinese personnel which led to serious physical conflict between the two sides,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in Beijing, adding that China has lodged strong protest and representation with India.

PLA’s Western Theatre Command spokesperson Senior Colonel Zhang Shuili claimed sovereignty over the Galwan valley region and blamed India for the clashes. He spoke of casualties, but did not specify the numbers.

“Their promised and again crossed the Line of Actual Control in the Galwan valley region Monday evening and purposely launched provocative attacks, leading to severe clashes and casualties,” Zhang said.

“China always owns sovereignty over the Galwan valley region, and the Indian border defence troops are inconsistent with their words and seriously violated the agreements both countries have reached.”

However, this is not the last word on the matter, as the two military are still engaged in posturing on the borders at this point in time. A de-escalation is possible only when the two sides move back to their May 1 positions.

“India should not be provoked and (the situation should not) escalate. But this is what China wants. China has several of its own problems and wants to divert the attention of its people and world,” said Rohit Puri, a senior advocate from Mumbai with keen sense of Indian security affairs.

“India is on the verge of wider international support and should not lose opportunity by engaging in combat. But the direction in which the situation is progressing, I don’t suppose normalcy may prevail for long. Such provocation would continue and ultimately peace may be lost due to patience running out by September.”

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