Acknowledging that “we are facing a challenge in Ladakh” where “the violent conduct of Chinese forces has been in complete violation of all mutually agreed norms”, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said Tuesday that the Moscow agreement between External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi “if implemented sincerely and faithfully by the Chinese side, could lead to complete disengagement and restoration of peace and tranquility in the border areas”.
Making a statement in Lok Sabha after the government, during a meeting of the Business Advisory Committee, turned down the Congress demand for a House discussion on the military standoff saying it is a sensitive issue, Singh said: “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 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.”
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He said “in the past too, we have had situations of prolonged standoffs in our border areas with China which have been resolved peacefully. Even though the situation this year is very different, both in terms of scale of troops involved and the number of friction points, we do remain committed to the peaceful resolution of the current situation. At the same time, the House can be assured that we remain prepared to deal with all contingencies”.
“The House should have full confidence that our armed forces will always rise to the challenge and do us all proud. This is still an ongoing situation and obviously involves sensitive operational issues. I would, therefore, not be able to give more details in public and I am confident about the understanding of the House in this regard.”
Singh urged the House to “pass a resolution in support of our armed forces who have been defending our motherland at great heights and most inclement weather conditions in Ladakh for our safety and security”.
As he made his statement, Congress members tried to intervene to seek clarifications. But Speaker Om Birla did not allow interruptions. Most Opposition members, barring the Congress, sat quietly. The Congress wanted to know why the Prime Minister was not making a statement on the issue.
Congress MPs displayed banners and their leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury wanted to speak on Singh’s statement, but this was not allowed by the Speaker who cited rules. In protest, the Congress staged a walk-out.
On the Sino-Indian boundary dispute, Singh said: “Both India and China have formally agreed that the boundary question is a complex issue which requires patience and have committed to seeking a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution through dialogue and peaceful negotiations. In the interim, the two sides also agree that maintenance of peace and tranquility in the border areas is an essential basis for the further development of bilateral relations.”
“India and China are yet to resolve their boundary question. China does not accept the customary and traditional alignment of the boundary.”
He told the House that “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 of Indian territory in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to China. China also claims approximately 90,000 sq km of Indian territory in the Eastern Sector of the India-China boundary in Arunachal Pradesh”.
He said India and China have concluded a number of agreements and protocols “to maintain peace and tranquility along the LAC without prejudice to their respective positions on the alignment of the LAC as well as on the boundary question. It is on this basis that our overall relations also saw considerable progress since 1988”.
He underlined that “India’s position is that while bilateral relations can continue to develop in parallel with discussions on resolving the boundary question, any serious disturbance in peace and tranquility along the LAC in the border areas is bound to have implications for the positive direction of our ties”.
He said “a key element of both the 1993 and the 1996 Agreements is that the two sides will keep their military forces in the areas along the Line of Actual Control to a minimum level… 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 a willingness to pursue the LAC clarification exercise. As a result, there are some areas where the Chinese and Indian perceptions of LAC overlap”.
Briefing the House on the developments this year, 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 faceoff. 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. These attempts were detected early and consequently responded to appropriately by our armed forces.”
He said China violated the June 6 agreement between Corps Commanders on the disengagement process and “created a violent faceoff on June 15th at Galwan. Our brave soldiers laid down their lives and also inflicted costs including casualties on the Chinese side”.
“While no one should doubt our determination to safeguard our borders, India believes that mutual respect and mutual sensitivity are the basis for peaceful relations with neighbours. As we want to resolve the current situation through dialogue, we have maintained diplomatic and military engagement with the Chinese side.”
“In these discussions, we have maintained the three key principles that determine our approach: (i) both sides should strictly respect and observe the LAC; (ii) neither side should attempt to alter the status quo unilaterally; and, (iii) all agreements and understandings between the two sides much be fully abided by in their entirety. The Chinese side, on its part, took the position that the situation should be handled in a responsible manner and ensure peace and tranquility as per bilateral agreements and protocol,” he said.
“Even as these discussions were going on, the Chinese side again engaged in provocative military manoeuvres 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.”
“As is clear from these events, the Chinese actions reflect a disregard of our various bilateral agreements… I met my Chinese counterpart on 4th September in Moscow and had an in-depth discussion with him. I conveyed in clear terms our concerns related to the actions of the Chinese side, including amassing a 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,” he said.
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