China and India closer to ‘biggest’ showdown

Indian and Chinese troops remained engaged in an eyeball-to-eyeball situation in several disputed areas along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh on Thursday, signalling that the confrontation could become the biggest military face-off after the Doklam episode in 2017.

Ladakh is a union territory, administered by the Indian government.

Top military sources said India has further increased its strength in Pangong Tso and Galwan Valley – the two contentious areas where sources say the Chinese army has deployed around 2,000 to 2,500 troops and gradually enhanced temporary infrastructure.

“The strength of the Indian Army in the area is much better than our adversary,” said a top military official on the condition of anonymity.

The biggest concern for Indian military has been the presence of Chinese troops around several key points, including Indian Post KM120 along the Darbuk-Shayok-Daulat Beg Oldie road in Galwan Valley.

“It is serious. It is not a normal kind of transgression,” former Northern Army Commander Lieutenant Geneneral (Retired) DS Hooda told Press Trust of India.

He particularly emphasised that Chinese transgression into areas like Galwan is worrying as there is no dispute between the two sides in the area.

Strategic Affairs expert and former Indian Ambassador to China Ashok K Kantha too agreed with Hooda. “There have been multiple incursions [by Chinese troops]. This is something which causes concern. It is not a routine standoff. This is a disturbing situation,” said Kantha.

Sources said diplomatic efforts must be ramped up to resolve the escalating tension between the two armies, and that both sides are eyeball-to-eyeball in several areas including Pangong Tso, Demchok and Daulat Beg Oldie.

On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “We have informed both India and China that the US is ready, willing and able to mediate or arbitrate their now raging border dispute. Thank you!”

There was no immediate response from officials from either side, and it could not be independently verified whether Trump had formally conveyed the offer.

Earlier that day, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian told a media briefing that “the situation along the border between China and India is generally stable and controllable”, and that both countries are able to resolve the issue through negotiations and dialogue.

Zhao highlighted that China’s stance on the border issue has been consistent and clear. It has strived to implement the crucial consensus reached by both countries’ leaders, strictly adhering to relevant agreements, and “is committed to safeguarding the security of its national territorial sovereignty, as well as peace and stability in the China-India border areas”.

The situation in Eastern Ladakh deteriorated after around 250 Chinese and Indian soldiers were engaged in a violent face-off on the evening of May 5, which spilled over to the next day before the two sides agreed to “disengage” following a meeting at the level of local commanders. Over 100 Indian and Chinese soldiers were injured in the violence.

The incident in Pangong Tso was followed by a similar incident in North Sikkim on May 9.

India last week said the Chinese military is hindering normal patrolling by its troops and asserted that India has always taken a very responsible approach towards border management.

At a media briefing, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava also strongly refuted China’s contention that the tension was triggered due to trespassing by Indian forces on the Chinese side.

Long Xingchun, a professor at the School of Foreign Languages of China West Normal University, said: “There is no line of actual control along the China-India border that both sides recognise.

“Due to the improvement of infrastructure at the border area, the two countries have ramped up patrols, which have led to more frequent standoffs as a result.

“Yet most of them were directly and properly eased through communication among frontline officers. Only a few incidents have been exposed by media outlets. But they aroused public attention.

“Unlike previous standoffs, the latest border friction was not caused by accident, but was a planned move of New Delhi. India has been clearly and definitely aware that the Galwan Valley region is Chinese territory,” he said.

The India-China border dispute covers the 3,488km long LAC. China claims Arunachal Pradesh as part of southern Tibet while India contests it.

Both sides have been asserting that pending the final resolution of the boundary issue, it is necessary to maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas.

China has been critical of India’s reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir, and has particularly criticised New Delhi for making Ladakh a union territory. China lays claim over several parts of Ladakh.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping held their first informal summit in April 2018 in the Chinese city of Wuhan, months after the Doklam standoff.

At the summit, the two leaders decided to issue “strategic guidance” to their militaries to strengthen communications so that they can build trust and understanding.

Modi and Xi held their second informal summit in Mamallapuram near Chennai in Tamil Nadu in October last year with a focus on further broadening bilateral ties.