China claims Indian troops fired 'warning' shots at Pangong. What is happening at the border?

Both Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh are on the boil, as the border standoff intensifies

Pangong-Lake-India-China-Ladakh-AP Pangong Tso lake in Ladakh

China, on Tuesday, claimed that Indian troops "fired warning shots" at the south bank of the Pangong Tso Lake in Ladakh on Monday, calling it a serious provocation of a "very bad nature". According to a statement released by China: "The Chinese border guards were forced to take countermeasures to stabilise the situation. Indian Army illegally crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and entered the south bank of Pangong Lake and the Shenpao mountain area. During the operation, the Indian Army blatantly fired threats to the patrol personnel of the Chinese border guards who had made representations, and the Chinese border guards were forced to take countermeasures to stabilise the situation on the ground," the statement read. Currently, it is unclear what the "countermeasures" are. 

The Chinese claims come amid repeated provocations by the PLA along the Sino-Indian border at Ladakh, and rising tensions at the northeastern border with Arunachal Pradesh. 

Arunachal Pradesh is on the boil after reports of abduction of five people from Upper Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh by the PLA troops, which the Indian Army had then taken up. Engaged as porters and guides by the Indian army, the five villagers from the Nacho area of Upper Subansiri district, who were part of a seven-member group which went for hunting in a jungle, were reported missing by their families through social media last Friday. China had brushed off concerns over the whereabouts of the five youths and needled India, saying it has never recognised the northeastern state, which it claims is part of south Tibet. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a media briefing in Beijing that the Chinese government has never recognised the so-called "Arunachal Pradesh".

In Ladakh, the biggest cause of concern is now the southern banks of Pangong Tso lake. China attempted to open up a new front at the Chushul sector, which the Army rebuffed by capturing significant heights along the Rezang La and the Reqin La passes. With Rezang La, India gets a clear view of the Spanggur Gap—which is a possible route of ingress—China’s Moldo Garrison and also of the Spanggur lake. Simply put, the Indian troops are sitting on the dominating heights. A massive deployment of Indian troops with the support of a regiment of T-90 tanks in range of the vulnerable Spanggur pass at Chushul is positioned to thwart any possible Chinese invasion.

Military buildup is happening on an exponential scale on both sides of the LAC. 

What next?

Both sides are refusing to cede an inch, and there is no abatement of hostilities in sight. India sent a strong message with BJP general secretary Ram Madhav—a senior and influential ruling party official—attending the funeral of Special Frontier Force's Subedar Nyima Tenzin; the SFF is a covert Indian fighting unit made up mostly of Tibetan refugees. Tenzin died on the intervening night of August 29-30 around the Pangong lake area after he stepped on a 1962 landmine. The Special Frontier Force is considered one of the most 'mysterious' armed units of India, falling under the cabinet secretariat that reports to the prime minister. The Special Frontier Force has its origins in the disaster of the 1962 war with China.

The highest levels of the Indian government have come out tough and unrelenting on the border issue. 

On Saturday, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had conveyed to his Chinese counterpart General Wei Fenghe that China must strictly respect the LAC and not make attempts to unilaterally change its status quo. "China must work with the Indian side for complete disengagement of troops at the earliest from all friction points including Pangong Lake," he said. Asserting that India is determined to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity, Singh also conveyed that China's actions amassing a large number of troops, its aggressive behaviour and attempts to alter the status quo in Ladakh were in violation of bilateral pacts, according to an official statement released.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar is expected to meet Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Moscow in the coming days. He has clearly said the state of the border with China cannot be de-linked from the state of the overall relationship with the neighbouring country. The external affairs minister also described the situation in eastern Ladakh as "very serious", which he said calls for "very very deep conversation" between the two sides at a political level.

Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla has categorically said there will be no compromise on India's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and asserted that it cannot be "business as usual" in bilateral ties unless there is peace and tranquility in the border areas. "We remain firmly committed to making sure that we preserve our territorial integrity and our sovereignty and we will not yield on that ground, we will remain firm and resolute. At the same time, we are open to resolving outstanding issues through dialogue," the foreign secretary said.

On the border situation, he said: "This is one of the most serious challenges we have faced in many decades. Also, I think if you look at the fact that we have not lost any lives on the border in the last 40 years, we have not seen this magnitude of amassing of forces on the border also in recent years, is something that we have to take stock of," he said.

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