Starting in the third week of April, over 5,000 Chinese soldiers have intruded at five points in India's Ladakh. These are Chumar, Demchok, Pangong and two places near DBO. The PLA’s ingress into the Galwan River valley opens up a new and worrying chapter.
On May 5th around 250 soldiers of Indian and Chinese army personnel were engaged in a face-off along the northern bank of the Pangong Lake and even resorted to stone-pelting. A number of soldiers on both sides sustained injuries.The situation in the area remained tense after the violent clashes between the troops.
Sources say 72 soldiers were injured in the confrontation at Pangong Lake and some had to be flown to hospitals in Leh, Chandi Mandir and Delhi.
It was the first case of troops from the two sides exchanging blows after a similar incident around the Pangong Lake in August 2017.
After the clash, Chinese military helicopters were spotted flying close to the undemarcated border between India and China in Eastern Ladakh. A fleet of Su-30 fighters of the Indian Air Force too carried out sorties in the area
The Indian Army admits that there was an incident involving helicopters from both sides, but states it was a “coincidence” that the Chinese helicopters were there. The Indian Air Force (IAF) chief, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria admitted in an interview this week that there was Chinese helicopter activity in the area, but claimed that the IAF was taking “necessary action”.
Line of Actual Control
The India-China border dispute covers the 3,488-km-long Line of Actual Control, the de-facto border between the two countries.
Well, patrol intrusions from both sides are routine in areas where the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is disputed, the LAC in the Galwan Valley corresponds to China’s official claim line.
This means, in sending thousands of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops three-to-four kilometres into the Galwan Valley, China has violated its own claim line and occupied territory that Beijing has traditionally acknowledged to be Indian.
This is not shaping up like a routine patrol confrontation, this time PLA soldiers were digging defences, preparing bunkers, moving in heavy vehicles and have reportedly even moved artillery guns to the rear to support the intruders. The Chinese have pitched close to a hundred tents at four points on the Galwan River between Patrolling Point 14 and another location called Gogra.
Indian troops in the area were taken by surprise when a large Chinese force crossed the LAC in late April. Since then, Indian forces have not challenged or confronted the PLA.
Sources say the PLA is expanding its presence. There are fresh reports that it has initiated another infiltration in Southern Ladakh.
In a separate incident, nearly 150 Indian and Chinese military personnel were engaged in a face-off near Naku La Pass in the Sikkim sector of the Sino-India border on Saturday. At least 10 soldiers from both sides sustained injuries in the incident.
Why are the two sides clashing?
The current face-off is believed to be in reaction to India steadily building infrastructure in Ladakh and the increase in local civilian activity on the Indian side of LAC. For China, this is an irritant because India is rapidly narrowing down the infrastructure gap in Ladakh. While India has not obstructed in any manner the activities of the Chinese on their side of the LAC, whether it is putting up of the pre-fabricated structures or an increase in their patrolling.
The Chinese patrol units have been aggressive in expressing their displeasure to the Indian army activity on the DBO road. This has manifested in their activity in Galwan sector, Pangong lake and other strategic areas.
However, there is little clarity within the government about why the Chinese have triggered this intrusion, along with another simultaneously in Sikkim. Some officials speculate that Beijing is punishing New Delhi for publishing a revised map of the former state of Jammu & Kashmir in November, which showed Aksai Chin — which both countries claim, but China occupies — as a part of India.
Another viewpoint holds that the traditionally peaceful Galwan River has now become a hotspot because it is where the LAC is closest to the new road India has built along the Shyok River to Daulet Beg Oldi (DBO) — the most remote and vulnerable area along the LAC in Ladakh.
What is India saying officially?
It is learnt that the PLA has stopped responding to Indian requests for flag meetings under the mutual protocol termed the “Border Management Posture” (BMP). “It is a stand-off in which there is presently no communication,” says a senior military officer.
High-level Indian and Chinese military commanders met at designated points along the LAC on May 22 and May 23 to defuse the current situation in Eastern Ladakh. Sources told that parallel diplomatic channels in New Delhi and Beijing were also working towards a peaceful resolution.
Sources have told ANI that no compromise will be made with regard to maintaining the sanctity of India's borders and that while India believes in peace, it is firm and resolute when it comes to the defence of its territory.
Officials maintained that the agenda of the scheduled meeting was military reforms and improving India's combat prowess.
The meeting came hours after the Indian Army briefed Defence Minister Rajnath Singh about the situation in Pangong Tso lake, Galwan Valley, where Indian and Chinese troops have engaged in aggressive posturing for 21 days now.
China today said that the situation at the border with India is "overall stable and controllable," and both the countries have proper mechanisms and communication channels to resolve the issues through a dialogue and consultation.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, during a media briefing, said that China's position on the border related issues is clear and consistent.