The armed forces deployed along the 3,500-km de-facto border with China have been given “full freedom” in giving “befitting” reply to any Chinese aggressive behaviour, government sources said after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh held a high-level meeting with top military brass on the situation in eastern Ladakh.
The meeting was attended by Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, Army Chief General MM Naravane, Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh, and Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria.
The sources said Singh told the top military brass to maintain strict vigil on Chinese activities around land border, airspace and in strategic sea lanes, and asked them to adopt a “tough” approach in dealing with any misadventure by Chinese forces.
Indian and Chinese armies have been on a six-week standoff in several areas of eastern Ladakh. The ties between the two countries came under severe strain after Chinese military killed 20 Indian Army personnel and injured around 76 in a violent clash in Galwan Valley on June 15.
China’s Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) has not yet talked about the number of casualties it suffered.
The sources said the armed forces have been given full freedom to deal with any act of aggression by China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the de-facto border between the two countries.
They said the Army as well as the IAF have already been ramping up their operational capabilities along the LAC to effectively deal with any Chinese misadventure.
The review meeting comes a day after India on Saturday (June 20) categorically rejected China’s claim of sovereignty over Galwan Valley, asserting that attempts by the neighbouring country to “advance exaggerated and untenable” claims are “not acceptable”, even as militaries of the two countries remained locked in a bitter standoff in several areas of eastern Ladakh.
External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava also said China’s claim was not in accordance with its own position in the past, and Indian troops have been patrolling the area for a long time without any incident, dismissing Chinese allegations of transgression by Indian troops.
“The position with regard to the Galwan Valley area has been historically clear. Attempts by the Chinese side to advance exaggerated and untenable claims with regard to Line of Actual Control (LAC) there are not acceptable. They are not in accordance with China’s own position in the past,” he said responding to a question on the issue.
India’s strong rebuttal came after a spokesperson of the Chinese foreign ministry on Friday once again claimed that the Galwan Valley is located on the Chinese side of the LAC, despite New Delhi trashing on Thursday Chinese army’s claim of sovereignty on the same area.
Meanwhile, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria said the Indian Air Force was “well prepared” and “suitably deployed” to counter any security challenge along the border with China.
The IAF was aware of the Chinese air forces capability, its airfields, operational bases and deployment of its platforms in the region, and has taken all necessary steps to handle all contingencies, the Chief of Air Staff said after reviewing the combined passing-out parade of officers at the IAF academy in Dundigal.
“We are aware of the full situation, be at the LAC, be it deployments beyond LAC. We are determined that we will not let the sacrifice of the Galwan bravehearts go in vain,” Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria said, adding that, all efforts are being made to resolve the situation peacefully.
Responding to a query over China’s claim, Srivastava said Indian troops are fully familiar with the alignment of the LAC in all sectors of the India-China border areas, including in the Galwan Valley.
“They abide by it scrupulously here, as they do elsewhere. The Indian side has never undertaken any actions across the LAC. In fact, they have been patrolling this area for a long time without any incident,” he said.
Srivastava said all infrastructure built by the Indian side is naturally on its “own side of the LAC”.
“Since early May 2020, the Chinese side has been hindering India’s normal, traditional patrolling pattern in this area. This had resulted in a face-off which was addressed by the ground commanders as per the provisions of the bilateral agreements and protocols,” he said.
Separately, the Prime Ministers Office (PMO) issued a statement clarifying Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks at an all-party meeting that no one has entered Indian territory or captured any military post while referring to the eastern Ladakh standoff.
Modi’s remarks triggered massive criticism from opposition parties with the Congress accusing him of surrendering Indian territory to Chinese aggression, and asked where the 20 Indian soldiers were killed if the Chinese military did not come to the Indian side of the LAC, the de-facto boundary between the two countries.
Asserting that Modi’s observations that there was no Chinese presence on our side of the LAC pertained to the situation as a consequence of the bravery of our armed forces, who foiled an attempt by Chinese troops to transgress into the Galwan Valley, the PMO said,”attempts are being made in some quarters to give a mischievous interpretation to remarks by the prime minister at the all-party meeting on Friday.”
It further said:”As regards the transgression of LAC, it was clearly stated that the violence in Galwan on June 15 arose because Chinese side was seeking to erect structures just across the LAC and refused to desist from such actions.”
The Galwan Valley was the site of the violent clash between the two militaries on Monday evening in which a Colonel and 19 other Indian Army personnel were killed.
“We do not accept the contention that India was unilaterally changing the status quo. On the contrary, we were maintaining it,” Srivastava added.
He said the Chinese side attempted to transgress the LAC in other areas of the Western Sector of the India-China border areas but the attempts were invariably met with an “appropriate response” from the Indian side.
Srivastava also referred to telephonic conversation between External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on Wednesday.
“We expect that the Chinese side will sincerely follow the understanding reached between the foreign ministers to ensure peace and tranquility in the border areas, which is so essential for the overall development of our bilateral relations,” he said.
The MEA spokesperson also referred to decisions taken at Lt General-level meeting between the two militaries on June 6 which included a process for de-escalation and disengagement along the LAC that involved reciprocal actions.
“Both sides had agreed to respect and abide by the LAC and not undertake any activity to alter the status quo. However, the Chinese side departed from these understandings in respect of the LAC in the Galwan Valley area and sought to erect structures just across the LAC,” he said.
“When this attempt was foiled, Chinese troops took violent actions on June 15 that directly resulted in casualties,” he added.
During the telephonic talks, Jaishankar conveyed to Wang India’s protest in the “strongest terms” on the events leading up to and on the violent face-off on June 15, and “firmly rejected” the “unfounded allegations” made by the Chinese side and the “misrepresentation of the understandings” reached between the senior commanders on June 6, the MEA spokesperson said.
“The two Ministers also agreed that the overall situation would be handled in a responsible manner, and that both sides would implement the disengagement understanding of June 6 sincerely,” Srivastava said.
He said the two sides are in regular touch and early meetings of military and diplomatic mechanisms are currently being discussed.
The two armies were engaged in a standoff in Galwan and several other areas of eastern Ladakh since May 5 when the two sides clashed on the banks of the Pangong Tso.
The situation in the area deteriorated after around 250 Chinese and Indian soldiers were engaged in a violent face-off on May 5 and 6. The incident in Pangong Tso was followed by a similar incident in north Sikkim on May 9.
(With inputs from agencies)