(Editor’s Note: Updated at 7.30 pm today with Chinese Western Theatre Command spokesperson’s reaction at paragraph 15.)
By N. C. Bipindra
New Delhi: China has opened a new battle front on the South banks of Pongong Tso, a boomerang-shaped lake in eastern Ladakh, leading to a military action by the Indian Army to thwart the moves of the People’s Liberation Army on the night of Aug. 29 and 30.
The two armies are already in a confrontation at multiple points in eastern Ladakh since early May, including at the Finger 4 ridge in the North banks of Pongong Tso, of which only one-third is in Indian control.
A military dialogue is being held today at Chushul, on the Indian side, to resolve the latest military misadventure of the Chinese army, according to a statement issued by the Indian Army’s spokesperson Colonel Aman Anand.
“On the night of 29/30 August 2020, PLA troops violated the previous consensus arrived at during military and diplomatic engagements during the ongoing standoff in eastern Ladakh and carried out provocative military movements to change the status quo,” Anand said, in the unusual statement from the Indian Army which came just after 10.30 am today.
“(The) Indian troops pre-empted this PLA activity on the southern Bank of Pangong Tso lake, undertook measures to strengthen our positions and thwart Chinese intentions to unilaterally change facts on ground,” the four-line statement put up on the Press Information Bureau‘s website said.
“The Indian Army is committed to maintaining peace and tranquility through dialogue, but is also equally determined to protect its territorial integrity. A Brigade commander level Flag Meeting is in progress at Chushul to resolve the issues.”
The Indian Army officers at the headquarters here and at the operational area in Ladakh refused to give further details of the confrontation, except that there was no physical violence.
The situation in the North banks of Pongong Tso on Aug. 29/30 did to degenerate into violent clashes that were witnessed on June 15 this year at Galwan Valley that claimed 20 Indian Army troopers’ lives and around 40 of the PLA soldiers’, though China has not given out any numbers till date of its casualties.
The PLA has been testing the Indian Army’s capabilities for four months now and the latest seems to be another attempt to see it can defend Indian territory.
This latest physical confrontation between the Indian and Chinese soldiers should be seen in the context of India’s Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat’s remarks last week of the military option being open to India if diplomacy fails to get China to move its soldiers back to the locations of April this year.
The Chinese soldiers have not budged from the points of confrontation such as Finger 4 in Pongong Tso and Debsang Plains in the last three months despite military commander-level and diplomatic parleys, including at least five meetings between the corps commanders on either side and telephonic conversation between India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, both of whom are also the Special Representatives on the Sino-Indian boundary question for their nations.
The Chinese soldiers have been fortifying their positions and even constructing shelter and storage facilities at these confrontation points in the last couple of months, in preparation for the approaching Winter.
The skirmishes and the strengthening of positions are all clear indications that the Chinese soldiers are digging its heels and are going to be in conflict with Indian Army for the long haul.
In such a scenario, the Indian Army may have to accept General Bipin Rawat’s line of thinking and exercise the military option. A long and hard military confrontation is likely now, as diplomacy has clearly failed.
At Chengdu, China’s Western Theater spokesperson Senior Colonel Shang Shuili blamed India for the latest conflict in the South banks of Pangong Tso, according to tweets from Chinese Communist Party-run propaganda platform CGTN.
Shang also reported said the Indian Army had breached the peace consensus reached during the early multi-level talks between the two sides. He also claimed that the Indian Army had crossed “the Hunan coast and the nearby Reqin mountain pass” and took control of the area.
The Chinese military theatre command spokesperson said China strongly opposed this military operation by India and that it requested the Indian Army to immediately withdraw the soldiers and earnestly adhere to the achieved peace consensus and commitments to avoid further escalation of the situation in the Line of Actual Control.
“The Chinese military is taking necessary countermeasures and will pay close attention to developments and resolutely safeguard China’s territorial sovereignty and peace and stability in border areas.”