Indian, Chinese armies appear heading towards biggest face-off after Doklam

The India-China border dispute covers the 3,488-km-long LAC
Last Updated 26 May 2020, 01:42 IST

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

India has rushed additional troops to eastern Ladakh, after China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) deployed nearly 5,000 soldiers closer to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between the two nations on the north-bank of the Pangong Tso lake.

The Indian Army has also stepped up vigil along the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir to pre-empt any offensive by the Pakistan Army to take advantage of the escalation of tension along the India-China disputed boundary.

Even as the military leaders and the diplomats of India and China are in touch to diffuse tension, the build-ups by the Indian Army and the Chinese PLA along the LAC on the north-bank of the Pangong Tso lake continued on Monday. No new incident of scuffle was reported though after the ones that had taken place on May 5 and 6.

The PLA deployed nearly 5000 soldiers in a large camp set up recently at Galwan Valley within the territory claimed by China – to support the smaller number of troops, who had transgressed the LAC in at least three locations and entered into the areas claimed by India. Sources in New Delhi told the DH that the Indian Army had also rushed soldiers “in adequate numbers” as a countermeasure to the deployment by the Chinese PLA.

"The strength of the Indian Army in the area is much better than our adversary," said a top military official told PTI 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 Lt Gen (Retd) DS Hooda told PTI.

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

Strategic Affairs expert Ambassador Ashok K Kantha too agreed with Lt Gen Hooda.

"There have been multiple incursions (by Chinese troops). This is something that causes concern. It is not a routine standoff. This is a disturbing situation," Kantha said.

It has not yet turned into a face-off like the one that had happened in Doklam Plateau in western Bhutan in June-August 2017, when Indian and Chinese soldiers had been engaged in an eyeball-to-eyeball situation for almost 72 days.

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.

The Indian Army and the Border Security Force also stepped up vigil along India’s Line of Control (LoC) as well as the undisputed stretch of the border with Pakistan, in view of the belligerent statements by military and civilian leaders of the neighbouring country.

“A befitting response will be given to India if it goes for any misadventure against Pakistan,” Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Foreign Minister of the neighbouring country, was quoted saying in a report by Radio Pakistan. Pakistan Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa too raised the pitch of the rhetoric against India. “Kashmir is a disputed territory and any attempt to challenge the disputed status including any political-cum-military thought related to aggression will be responded with full national resolve and military might,” he told Pakistan Army personnel during a visit to the forward bases along the LoC.

The Chinese side has particularly strengthened its presence in the Galwan Valley, erecting around 100 tents in the last two weeks and bringing in heavy equipment for construction of bunkers.

The sources said Indian troops are resorting to "aggressive patrolling" in several sensitive areas including Demchok and Daulat Beg Oldi.

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 was hindering normal patrolling by its troops and asserted that India has always taken a very responsible approach towards border management.

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

India's response came two days after China accused the Indian Army of trespassing into its territory, claiming that it was an "attempt to unilaterally change the status" of the LAC in Sikkim and Ladakh.

On May 5, the Indian and Chinese army personnel clashed with iron rods, sticks, and even resorted to stone-pelting in the Pangong Tso lake area in which soldiers on both sides sustained injuries.

In a separate incident, nearly 150 Indian and Chinese military personnel were engaged in a face-off near Naku La Pass in the Sikkim sector on May 9. At least 10 soldiers from both sides sustained injuries.

The troops of India and China were engaged in a 73-day stand-off in Doklam tri-junction in 2017 which even triggered fears of a war between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

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 tranquility 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.

In 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 October last year with a focus on further broadening bilateral ties.

(With inputs from agencies)

(Published 25 May 2020, 16:50 IST)

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