Twenty Indian soldiers including a Colonel were killed in a “violent face-off” on Monday night with Chinese troops at Galwan Valley in Ladakh, the army said today, in the most serious escalation at the border in five decades and at a time the two sides were in the process of disengagement.
An army statement tonight opened by saying Indian and Chinese troops “have disengaged” at the Galwan area where they earlier clashed on the night of June 15/16, indicating that they do not expect any fresh outbreak of violence in the area.
While news agency ANI claimed that sources had confirmed 43 Chinese soldiers have been killed or seriously injured because of intercepts, the army’s statement did not refer to this. India said the clashes happened “as a result of an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo there”, rebutting China’s claims that Indian soldiers crossed the border.
This is the first fatal clash since 1975 between India and China, who fought a border war in 1962. Prime Minister Narendra Modi held meetings with Home Minister Amit Shah and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh met with military chiefs twice as India discussed a response to the huge development.
Here are the top developments in this big story:
- India said the clash arose from “an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo” on the border. “India is very clear that all its activities are always within the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control. We expect the same of the Chinese side,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Anurag Shrivastava.
- Colonel B Santosh Babu of the Bihar regiment, Havildar Palani and Sepoy Ojha are three of the names confirmed by the army earlier today. “17 Indian troops who were critically injured in the line of duty at the stand-off location and exposed to sub-zero temperatures in the high altitude terrain have succumbed to their injuries. Indian Army is firmly committed to protect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the nation,” the army’s fresh statement said tonight.
- The clash took place just as Chinese troops were getting ready to move away from a location per an agreement that was part of recent talks between the two sides to defuse tension. The Colonel was reportedly assaulted with stones and Indian soldiers retaliated, which led to close unarmed combat for several hours. The soldiers disengaged after midnight.
- Beijing, in an aggressive statement, accused India of crossing the border, “attacking Chinese personnel”, reported AFP. China’s Foreign Ministry was quoted by Reuters as saying India should not take unilateral actions or stir up trouble. “What’s shocking is that on June 15, the Indian side severely violated our consensus and twice crossed the border line and provoked and attacked the Chinese forces, causing a violent physical confrontation between the two border forces,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing. “China is raising strong opposition and stern representations to the Indian side on this,” he said.
- The only admission of casualties on the Chinese side came from the editor of their government mouthpiece Global Times. “Based on what I know, Chinese side also suffered casualties in the Galwan Valley physical clash. I want to tell the Indian side, don’t be arrogant and misread China’s restraint as being weak. China doesn’t want to have a clash with India, but we don’t fear it,” tweeted Hu Xijin, Editor-in-Chief of Global Times.
- For more than six weeks now soldiers from both sides have been engaged in a stand-off at least two locations along the Line of Actual Control — the 3,488 km de-facto boundary between India and China, and have rushed additional troops to the border. They have been facing each other at the Galwan River, which was one of the early triggers of the 1962 India-China war, and at the Pangong Tso — a glacial lake at 14,000 feet in the Tibetan plateau.
- On May 9, several Indian and Chinese soldiers were injured in a clash involving fists and stone-throwing at Naku La in Sikkim.
- After weeks of face-off including the incident in which patrolling soldiers clashed on the banks of Pangong Lake, resulting in injuries, friction eased following talks. Indian and Chinese military commanders had been in talks in Galwan Valley area and Hot Springs. The Chinese Army had earlier pulled back its troops from the Galwan valley, PP-15 and Hot Springs in Eastern Ladakh area. The Indian side also brought back some of its troops and vehicles from these areas.
- AFP quoted Indian sources and news reports as suggesting that Chinese troops remained in parts of the Galwan Valley and of the northern shore of the Pangong Tso lake, which caused the clash.
- China has been upset about the Indian construction of roads and air strips in the area, say diplomats. The government has pushed for improving connectivity and by 2022, 66 key roads along the Chinese border will have been built. One of these roads is near the Galwan valley that connects to Daulat Beg Oldi air base, which was inaugurated last October. Chinese military spokesperson colonel Zhang Shuili on Tuesday claimed “China always owns sovereignty over the Galwan Valley region”.