Satellite images show massive Chinese build-up at Pangong Tso

Army commanders of India and China held fresh talks on Monday

india-army-china-border-reuters Indian army soldiers at a makeshift transit camp near Baltal, southeast of Srinagar | Reuters

Exactly a week after the deadly clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers at Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh, Lt Generals of both sides held a critical meeting on Monday at the Moldo Border Personnel Meeting (BPM) point to lower the tension. The Indian delegation was led by 14 Corps Commander Lt General Harinder Singh. 

The meeting, the second between Lt General Harinder Singh and South Xinjiang Military District Chief Major General Liu Lin, began at 11.30 am and ended late at night. The ten-hour long meeting was on the lines of the one they held at the Chushul-Moldo BPM point in eastern Ladakh on June 6.

Meanwhile, Sydney-based analyst Nathan Ruser has claimed that China has been massively expanding its presence in the disputed area of Pangong Lake in the past six weeks. Based on recent satellite images, he claimed that significant construction work is being carried out by the Chinese between finger 4 and 5. Unlike Galwan Valley, these are not tents, but permanent structures, says Nathan. He, however, ruled out the presence of any heavy artillery or armoured tanks in the area. But nearly 100 permanent structures have been raised in the area. He added that these are part of Chinese military plans to change the status quo of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the de facto border between India and China. 

Encroachment on the Pangong Tso is considered to be the biggest roadblock for a possible resolution to the tussle between India and China. 

Though the outcome of Monday’s meeting is not immediately known, sources indicated that both sides have agreed to go back to the disengagement plan, which was stalled after the June 15 clash at Galwan Valley. 

The meeting mostly discussed the de-escalation process after the violent clash.

Sources claimed that during the meeting, Indian side alleged that Chinese troops did not honour the disengagement agreement happened in June 6 meeting. On the other side, the Chinese alleged that Indian soldiers provoked them, which led to violence.

At least 20 Indian soldiers, including a colonel, were killed in the clash while the Chinese side also suffered several casualties. During Monday's talk, the Chinese side admitted that they had also lost a commanding officer in the clash. But they did not give out total number of casualties on their side. 

During Friday's all-party meeting, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar is learnt to have informed about the killing of the commanding officer of the Chinese PLA along with scores of other soldiers. Unconfirmed reports based on satellite images claim that nearly 40 Chinese troops were killed in Galwan Valley clash. 

Official sources have confirmed that Colonel Santosh Babu, the commanding officer of 16 Bihar Regiment, was attacked by Chinese Army personnel with iron rods without any provocation, leading to a hand-to-hand combat. While three soldiers were killed in action, 17 others succumbed to their injuries and hypothermia. Four soldiers are in critical but stable condition, while 72 others are recuperating from minor injuries at various hospitals.

On June 18, the two sides held Major General-level talks at Patrol Point 14 location, where the clash took place on June 15-16. While the Indian side has demanded the Chinese to remove the additional build-up done in the area, it is also learnt that no fresh build-up or reinforcements were brought in by the Chinese side. 

A day before leaving for Russia, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Sunday gave complete authority to Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat, the three chiefs of Indian Armed Forces and the corps commanders to change the rules of engagement with the hostile scenario, as deemed fit. According to new rules of engagement, local commanders will not require to seek permission from the higher ups to use firearms in the event of hostile attack.

Meanwhile, India’s top Army commanders are on a two-day meeting to discuss strategy on China. The meeting which started on Monday at Army Headquarters in Delhi discussed various issues including a review of operational preparedness on the border.