New Delhi on May 21 rejected Beijing’s claim that Indian troops trespassed into Chinese territory, and accused the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of “hindering” patrols by Indian soldiers.
In the first such statement after weeks of a stand-off between Indian and Chinese soldiers at four points along the boundary in Sikkim and Ladakh, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) also told China that “peace and tranquillity in border areas” is an “essential prerequisite” to developing bilateral relations.
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“Any suggestion that Indian troops had undertaken activity across the LAC [Line of Actual Control] in the Western Sector or the Sikkim Sector is not accurate. Indian troops are fully familiar with the LAC alignment in the India-China border areas and abide by it scrupulously,” said MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava.
“All Indian activities are entirely on the Indian side of the LAC. In fact, it is the Chinese side that has recently undertaken activity hindering India’s normal patrolling patterns,” he observed.
Mr. Srivastava’s remarks followed claims by the China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) on May 19 that Indian troops were attempting to “unilaterally change” the status quo at the boundary between them and “blocking” patrolling by Chinese border guards.
On May 21, the MFA issued another statement repeating the claims. It said that Chinese troops “firmly” dealt with what it called the Indian troops “crossover and infringement activities”, while telling the United States not to interfere in the dispute between India and China.
“We urge the Indian side to work together with us, abide by our leadership’s important consensus, comply with the agreements signed, refrain from unilateral actions complicating the situation,” said MFA spokesperson Zhao Lijian.
Series of scuffles
Thus far, Indian Army officials had maintained that scuffles at two points on the border, at “Finger areas” of Pangong Tso (lake) in Eastern Ladakh and Naku La in North Sikkim had been part of normal ground actions that emanate from a “difference in perception of the Line of Actual Control”. In addition there have been stand offs at Demchok and Galwan Nalah both in Eastern Ladakh, sources said. In the past few weeks, however, as the stand-off between both sides escalated, sources told The Hindu that the Army had moved additional troops to the areas of the stand-off, as Chinese troops and heavy vehicles advanced further towards areas patrolled by India.
The sources said, more troops were being moved into the next stage of a 3-step acclimatisation process for high altitudes, in case they were required to move in. “The Army units at Binnaguri, Hashimara and few other places have been upstaged and are undergoing acclimatisation in Sikkim,” the sources added.
The MEA statement, more measured than the two statements that had been issued by the MFA, is the first time the government has said Chinese troops are blocking Indian patrols during the current stand-off, although it didn’t accuse the PLA of crossing into Indian territory.
While both New Delhi and Beijing indicated that talks between military commanders are on to resolve the situation between them, neither said they had made progress yet.
“The two sides have established mechanisms to resolve such situations peacefully through dialogue. Both sides remain engaged with each other to address any immediate issues,” said Mr. Srivastava.
U.S. official’s remarks
China confirmed consultations were under way, and reacted angrily to comments by senior American official Alice Wells on the stand-off, who had referred to the border dispute as proof of Chinese “provocative behaviour” and “threat to its neighbours”.
“The Diplomat’s remarks are just nonsense,” said Mr. Zhao. “There are consultations and diplomatic channels between the two sides that has nothing to do with USA,” he said.
When asked by The Hindu for a specific response to the U.S. decision to speak about the bilateral dispute, the MEA spokesperson said, “No comments”.
(With inputs from Ananth Krishnan in Chennai)