Written by Arshad R. Zargar
Two days after 20 Indian soldiers were killed in the deadliest border clash between India and China in decades, the two countries showed an eagerness to deescalate the situation on Wednesday. The foreign ministers of the two Asian nations spoke over the phone, and both agreed that “neither side would take any action to escalate matters and instead, ensure peace and tranquillity,” according to a statement by India’s external affairs ministry.
But even the talk of peace came with warnings from both Delhi and Beijing.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who came under fire from opposition parties for staying “silent” after the country’s soldiers were killed, warned that India was able to defend itself.
“I would like to assure the nation that the sacrifice of our soldiers will not be in vain. For us, the unity and sovereignty of the country is most important,” Modi said in a televised address. “No one should be in any doubt: India wants peace, but when provoked, it is capable of giving a fitting reply.”
The Indian soldiers were killed in a clash with Chinese troops in the Himalayan region of Galwan Valley on Monday night. The Indian military has claimed there were “casualties” on the Chinese side, too, but China hasn’t confirmed any deaths or injuries among its forces.
The two countries have blamed each other for the deadly brawl.
On Wednesday, India accused China of “pre-meditated and planned” action that resulted in the deaths of its soldiers.
The “Chinese side sought to erect a structure in Galwan Valley on our side of the LAC (Line of Actual Control),” India’s foreign affairs ministry said in a statement Wednesday. “It reflected an intent to change the facts on ground in violation of all our agreements.”
A Chinese government statement, meanwhile, said Foreign Minister Wang Yi had told his Indian counterpart that India must punish the soldiers responsible for the clash.
Indian forces “crossed the Line of Actual Control again and deliberately provoked violence, attacking the officers and soldiers… (this) led to fierce physical clashes, resulting in casualties,” the top Chinese diplomat said. “We urge the Indian side to conduct a thorough investigation on this, severely punish those responsible for the incident, strictly control the frontline troops.”
But later in the day foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China was looking to deescalate, and “we don’t wish to see more clashes.”
India and China share a 2,100-mile border, large parts of which are disputed and unmarked. Soldiers from both countries man the border and carry out regular patrols. Hand-to-hand fights aren’t uncommon, but firearms haven’t been used since 1975. The two countries fought a brief border war in 1962.
Monday’s incident came after more than six weeks of troop build-up, allegedly on both sides of the high-altitude Himalayan border.
Senior military commanders from the two countries met on June 6 to try to resolve the dispute, but on Monday night, Chinese forces setting up new camps, allegedly on the Indian side of the agreed border, reportedly triggered the clash.
Indian media outlets have published details of the high-altitude hand-to-hand combat, citing unnamed government sources, saying the two sides came face-to-face on a narrow ridge pass in the middle of the night. As a fight broke out, some soldiers were pushed off the cliff and fell to their deaths.
The soldiers reportedly brawled with stones, clubs, iron rods, and even sticks pierced with nails. The fight lasted for about six hours in total darkness, the reports have claimed.
The U.S. government, European Union and the United Nations have all expressed concern over the clash, and urged restraint.