Given the scale of troops involved and the number of friction points on the Ladakh border, the current India-China stand-off is much different than the similar situation in the past between the two neighbours, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh told Lok Sabha today. He asserted that even though India remained committed to peaceful resolution, its armed forces were prepared to deal with all contingencies.
The defence minister, in his statement to Parliament, said that in the September 10 meeting between External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and the Chinese counterpart in Moscow, both sides had reached an agreement which “if implemented sincerely and faithfully by the Chinese side, could lead to complete disengagement and restoration of peace and tranquillity in the border areas”.
Singh's statement, however, did not convince the opposition. The Congress wanted to raise certain issues which was not allowed by Speaker Om Birla, following which the MPs staged a walkout from Lok Sabha in protest.
Despite the talks at various levels between the two neighbours, the border skirmishes and instances of Chinese incursion have been the cause of concern. India had responded by banning several Chinese apps, and even strictly regulating imports, to send a strong message to China. The strategic experts feel that the current Ladakh stand-off is expected to last much longer, and the country should prepare for a long haul. It was in this backdrop, and consistent demands from the various political parties that the government apprised Parliament of the situation at the border.
The defence minister also gave an account of his meeting with his Chinese counterpart in Moscow on September 4. “I conveyed in clear terms our concerns related to the actions of the Chinese side, including amassing of large number of troops, their aggressive behaviour and attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo that were in violation of the bilateral agreements. I also made it clear that even as we wanted to peacefully resolve the issue and would like the Chinese side to work with us, there should also be no doubt about our determination to protect India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Giving the sequence of events of this year's violent stand-off, Rajnath Singh said, “Since April, we had noticed a build-up of troops and armaments by the Chinese side in the border areas adjacent to Eastern Ladakh. In early May, the Chinese side had taken action to hinder the normal, traditional patrolling pattern of our troops in the Galwan Valley area, which resulted in a face-off.
“Even as this situation was being addressed by the Ground Commanders as per the provisions of our bilateral agreements and protocol, in mid-May the Chinese side made several attempts to transgress the LAC in other parts of the Western Sector. This included Kongka La, Gogra and North Bank of Pangong Lake.”
Singh said that the government, through its diplomatic and military channels, told China that the latter was attempting to unilaterally alter the status quo. “It was categorically conveyed that this was unacceptable.”
The defence minister accused China of repeatedly violating the disengagement process agreed upon between the senior commanders of the two sides in a meeting on June 6, 2020. “In violation of this the Chinese side created a violent face off on June 15th at Galwan. Our brave soldiers laid down their lives and also inflicted costs including casualties on the Chinese side. The conduct of our armed forces throughout these incidents shows that while they maintained “Sayyam” in the face of provocative actions, they also equally displayed “Shaurya” when required to protect the territorial integrity of India.”
Even as the discussions resumed, “the Chinese side again engaged in provocative military manoeuvers on the night of 29th and 30th August in an attempt to change the status quo in the South Bank area of Pangong Lake. But yet again, timely and firm actions by our armed forces along the LAC prevented such attempts from succeeding.”
Singh said the Chinese actions reflect a disregard of our various bilateral agreements. The amassing of the troops by China goes against the 1993 and 1996 agreements. He accepted, as of now, “the Chinese side has mobilized a large number of troops and armaments along the LAC as well as in the depth areas. There are several friction areas in Eastern Ladakh including Gogra, Kongka La and North and South Banks of the Pangong Lake. In response to China’s actions, our armed forces have also made appropriate counter deployments in these areas to ensure that India’s security interests are fully protected.”
As China had created a huge network of roads and related infrastructure along the border, the Indian government too had stepped up the budget for border infrastructure development to about “double the previous levels”.
Singh added that China does not accept the customary and traditional alignment of the boundary between India and China, even though India believed that the alignment was based on well-established geographical principles confirmed by treaties and agreements, as well as historical usage.
He said China continues to be in illegal occupation of approximately 38,000 sq.km. in the Union Territory of Ladakh. In addition, under the so-called Sino-Pakistan 'Boundary Agreement' of 1963, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 sq.km. Indian territory in Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir to China. China also claims approximately 90,000 sq.km. Indian territory in the Eastern Sector of the India-China boundary in Arunachal Pradesh.
“There is no commonly delineated Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the border areas between India and China and there is no common perception of the entire LAC. Therefore, in order to ensure peace and tranquillity in the border areas, especially along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the two countries have concluded a number of agreements and protocols,” Singh said giving the historical perspective of the dispute.
Referring to the 1993 and the 1996 Agreements, Singh said that the two sides will keep their military forces in the areas along the Line of Actual Control to a minimum level. “These agreements also mandate that pending an ultimate solution to the boundary question, the two sides shall strictly respect and observe the Line of Actual Control.
“In late 1990s and up to 2003, the two sides engaged in an exercise to clarify and confirm the LAC. But, thereafter, the Chinese side did not show any willingness to pursue the LAC clarification exercise. As a result, there are some areas where the Chinese and Indian perceptions of LAC overlap.”
Singh, however, assured the Lok Sabha that the morale and motivation of the armed forces were high.