Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi | Published: June 20, 2020 4:35:15 am
Army jawans pay gun salute to martyr Rajesh Orang during his funeral rites at his ancestral village Belgoria in Birbhum district of West Bengal, Friday, June 19, 2020. Orang was among the twenty Indian Army soldiers who were martyred in a clash with the Chinese troops in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley. (PTI Photo)
China on Friday said the Galwan valley was “located on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control”, making an unprecedented formal claim on an area that has always been under India’s control.
This claim, made by the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing on Friday, had earlier been made only by the spokesperson of the Western theatre command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
The Chinese statement came on a day several foreign governments — the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, and the Maldives — expressed their condolences on the killing of 20 Indian soldiers.
In Washington DC, the top US diplomat on China said Beijing’s actions that led to the clash on the night of June 15-16 were “similar to activity we’ve seen in the past on [other] border disputes”.
Several recent steps taken by the Chinese in places including Hong Kong and India “have been not really constructive”, the US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell said.
In a statement issued late on Friday evening, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said: “The Galwan Valley is located on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control in the west section of the China-India boundary. For many years, the Chinese border troops have been patrolling and on duty in this region. Since April this year, the Indian border troops have unilaterally and continuously built roads, bridges and other facilities at the LAC in the Galwan Valley.”
“China”, Zhao said, “has lodged representations and protests on multiple occasions but India has gone even further to cross the LAC and make provocations. By the early morning of May 6, the Indian border troops, who have crossed the LAC by night and trespassed into China’s territory, have built fortification and barricades, which impeded the patrol of Chinese border troops. They deliberately made provocations in an attempt to unilaterally change the status quo of control and management. The Chinese border troops have been forced to take necessary measures to respond to the situation on the ground and strengthen management and control in the border areas.”
Earlier this week, the PLA’s western theatre command spokesperson Colonel Zhang Shiuli had said that “the sovereignty over the Galwan Valley area has always belonged to China”.
There was no official response from the Ministry of External Affairs to the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s statement on Friday. Earlier, in response to the PLA spokesperson’s statement, the MEA spokesperson had said that making “exaggerated and untenable” claims was contrary to the understanding reached in talks between the military commanders of the two sides on June 6.
The Galwan Valley has always been under India’s control, and has not figured in China’s maps since 1962.
Zhao insisted that the responsibility for the border clash lay “entirely” with the Indian side.
“I want to reiterate that the rights and wrongs of the severe situation in the Galwan Valley are very clear and the responsibility rests entirely with the Indian side. The two sides are in communication on easing the situation through diplomatic and military channels. China attaches importance to China-India relations and hopes that India will work with China to jointly maintain the larger picture of the long-term development of bilateral relations,” he said.
Zhao claimed that following a “strong demand” from the Chinese side, India had agreed “to withdraw the personnel who crossed the LAC and demolish the facilities, and so they did”. At the June 6 meeting, he said, “the Indian side promised that they would not cross the estuary of the Galwan river to patrol and build facilities” and that the two sides would discuss the phased withdrawal of troops.
But “shockingly”, Zhao said, “on the evening of June 15, India’s front-line troops, in violation of the agreement… once again crossed the Line of Actual Control for deliberate provocation… and even violently attacked the Chinese officers and soldiers who went there for negotiation, thus triggering fierce physical conflicts and causing casualties.
“The adventurous acts of the Indian army have seriously undermined the stability of the border areas, threatened the lives of Chinese personnel, violated the agreements reached between the two countries on the border issue, and breached the basic norms governing international relations. China has lodged solemn representations and strong protests to the Indian side.”
Earlier on Friday, the Foreign Ministers and Ambassadors of several countries posted condolences to India on Twitter for the loss of Indian lives. Also on Friday, it became clear that Defence Minister Rajnath Singh would be travelling to Russia to attend the June 24 Victory Day celebrations.
US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo tweeted, “We extend our deepest condolences to the people of India for the lives lost as a result of the recent confrontation with China. We will remember the soldiers’ families, loved ones, and communities as they grieve.”
Assistant Secretary of State Stilwell, while briefing reporters on Pompeo’s meeting with Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi, said: “The actions that we’ve seen out of the PRC of late… have been not really constructive as we look at India, the South China Sea, Hong Kong issues, and just go around the perimeter.
“…We’re obviously watching the India-China border dispute very closely,” Stilwell said. “It – this activity is similar to activity we’ve seen in the past on border disputes with the PRC, and again, I would point you to those – I think it was 2015 when Xi Jinping travelled to India the first time. The PLA invaded this contested area deeper and longer, with more people, than ever before historically. Again, whether that was a negotiating tactic or a – just a punch in the nose to demonstrate their superiority, I don’t know. But then we saw the Doklam issue down near Bhutan, where we saw similar concerns… Again, we don’t have a lot of visibility and we don’t have a lot of open dialogue with our Chinese counterparts, and honestly I’d like to see more of that if we can.”
On Twitter, the US Ambassador to New Delhi, Kenneth Juster, who quote-tweeted Pompeo, said, “The U.S. Mission in India sends our heartfelt condolences to the families of the soldiers who were lost at Galwan. Their bravery and courage will not be forgotten. #USIndia”
France’s Ambassador Emmanuel Lenain and German Ambassador Walter J Lindner both posted “heartfelt condolences”, and the British Acting High Commissioner Jan Thompson said “Our thoughts go out to the families and friends of the Indian soldiers lost and injured”.
Japan’s ambassador Satoshi Suzuki and Maldives Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid both tweeted “deepest condolences to the people of India” and to the families of the soldiers who had lost their lives.
Each of these countries has deep and complex bilateral relationships with China. The international community had been quick to express support for India after Pulwama, since it was a terrorist attack. But, in case of a border clash, countries are more careful in picking a side.
Several officials in New Delhi said the statements from the US and other countries could push Beijing to declare PLA casualties, since the international condolences suggest that the world sees India and the Indian Army as victims of a premeditated and disproportionate attack by the Chinese.
Among all the statements issued on Friday, only the one from Japan spelt out that the clashes “may have an impact on regional stability”. During Doklam crisis in 2017 as well, the then Japanese envoy had been the most vocal — asking that the parties “do not resort to unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force”.
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