TWO ROUNDS of talks between Indian and Chinese local military commanders at Pangong Tso, where troops of the two sides came to blows two weeks ago, remained inconclusive Tuesday and Beijing warned of “necessary counter-measures”. It claimed the Indian Army had “entered Chinese soil on the Baijing and Lujin duan section of the Sino-Indian border, obstructing the normal patrol of Chinese border troops, and was “attempting to unilaterally change the status quo of border territory”.
While the Army and Ministry of External Affairs maintained silence, officials in New Delhi described the situation as “delicately poised” and “very sensitive” at a time when the country is grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic and its fallout.
The Indian Express has learnt that there has been movement of troops to eastern Ladakh following the continuing objections of the Chinese to the construction of a road in the Galwan river area, well within Indian territory.
The site of the current construction is near the confluence of Shyok and Galwan rivers, some 200 km north of the Pangong Tso lake.
The Chinese, sources said, have objected to construction of a new road which branches off the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) road along the riverbank towards the LAC.
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The Chinese have moved troops to the area, pitched 70-80 tents and parked heavy vehicles and monitoring equipment, not very far from the Indian side. This falls in SSN or sub-sector north under the Army, while areas south to it are in the Hot Springs sector under the ITBP.
“Galwan is not a disputed area between India and China, unlike Pangong Tso. Both sides agree on the LAC and patrol accordingly. There was no transgression by Chinese patrols in the area in the past two years. The issue is the construction of the road, which is well inside our territory, and, therefore, their objection is hard to comprehend,” a source said.
India has relocated additional troops to the area, but they have not been deployed so far at the location.
The DSDBO road connecting Daulat Beg Oldie, at the base of the Karakoram Pass, with Shyok and Darbuk, was completed a year ago and provides India greatly connectivity in the border areas. The 255-km road, which had to be realigned after the initial alignment was found unsuitable, runs along Shyok and Tangtse rivers.
At Pangong Tso, as reported by The Indian Express, the Chinese have deployed additional boats on the lake and stopped the movement of Indian soldiers beyond Finger 2 on the northern banks of the lake – the mountains there jut forward in major spurs, which the Army calls Fingers. India claims the LAC is co-terminus with Finger 8, while the Chinese claim that the LAC passes through Finger 2. The area between the two differing perceptions is the territory which both armies try to dominate through regular patrolling. The Indians physically control the area up to Finger 4.
On the talks between the two sides Tuesday, sources said, “The meeting between the commanders on both sides is part of the established procedure to resolve any misunderstanding. These take place on required basis at various levels, from a platoon commander to the brigade commander. The important thing is that the procedure is being followed,” sources said. They declined comment on the date or location of the next meeting.
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In comments in Mandarin Tuesday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry warned of “necessary counter-measures” and said: “Chinese border troops are committed to upholding peace and tranquility in China-India border areas. At the same time, we will resolutely defend the sovereignty and security of our homeland.”
“The Chinese side has asked the Indian personnel to return immediately and restore the control of the relevant areas. Strictly restrict their frontline teams, build on the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries and the agreements that have been made between the two sides, meet each other face-to-face, and work together with the Chinese side to safeguard peace and stability in the region,” it said.
Meanwhile, US State Department official Alice Wells, responding to a question during a public webinar, said: “Chinese aggression is not always rhetorical. Whether it is the South China Sea or whether it is along the border with India, we continue to see provocations and disturbing behaviour by China that raises questions about how China seeks to use its growing power. And that is why we are seeing a rallying of like-minded nations. The border disputes are a reminder of the threat posed by China.”
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