New Delhi: China took “provocative action” even as the ground commanders of the two sides were holding a meeting Monday (31 August) to resolve tensions that erupted with a fresh clash at Pangong lake between 29 and 30 August, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said Tuesday.
The actions of the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) made Indian forces take “timely defensive action”, the MEA added, telling Beijing to “discipline and control” its frontline troops.
“Yesterday, on 31st August, even as the ground commanders of the two sides were in discussions to de-escalate the situation, the Chinese troops again engaged in provocative action. Due to the timely defensive action, the Indian side was able to prevent these attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo,” MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said in a statement Tuesday.
In a statement issued earlier, the Chinese foreign ministry had said that India “grossly violated” China’s territorial integrity and “illegally trespassed” the Line of Actual Control (LAC) Monday.
Tensions between India and China, which began with PLA incursions along the LAC in Ladakh this May, continue to fester despite multiple rounds of talks aimed at disengagement at de-escalation.
The brigade commanders on the two sides held a second meeting Tuesday after the weekend clashes, but it ended without any conclusive outcome, sources in the defence establishment told ThePrint.
The situation on the border, the sources added, continues to remain tense with troops from both sides deployed “virtually eyeball to eyeball”.
Talking about the “provocative action” referred to by the MEA, sources in the defence and security establishment said, on Monday, the PLA attempted to establish their presence and get Indians off the heights near the southern bank of the Pangong Tso.
Seeing the Chinese move in, warnings were issued by Indian troops, who dominate the entire area since capturing the heights over the weekend.
“The warnings were issued by the soldiers who were dominating the heights. The Chinese were also conveyed (a message) through hotline and other means that they should not try and do this,” a source said, adding that the “Chinese understood and did not move forward as planned”.
As tensions continue, General Officer Commanding (GOC) 17 Corps (Mountain Strike Corps) Lt Gen. Savneet Singh has been present in Ladakh to deliberate on offensive options, sources said. His visit comes days after Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Bipin Rawat said India has “military options” in the stand-off against China in case talks fail.
Late Monday night, sources said, Indian troops were involved in a large-scale movement at Pangong’s southern bank and surrounding areas, and select sensitive heights around Chushul were occupied in strength so as to deny the Chinese any mobility corridors in the sector.
‘Provocative military movement’
The Indian Army had said in a statement Monday that it was PLA troops who, on the intervening night of 29 and 30 August, violated the consensus reached during military and diplomatic engagements, and “carried out provocative military movements to change the status quo”.
The Indian Army troops, however, gained control of most heights in and around the southern bank of Pangong Tso, including elevated features like Black Top Helmet, Rezangla and Reqin La. The troops also carried out reconnaissance of other important heights in the vicinity.
Srivastava said Tuesday that the matter of Chinese violations has been raised with Beijing at the diplomatic and military levels.
Since both sides began military and diplomatic engagement three months ago over the situation at the LAC, the de-escalation and disengagement process has been moving at a snail’s pace, Indian diplomatic sources said.
China has not adhered to what was agreed during the talks, which have ranged from the level of foreign ministers to that of ‘Special Representatives’ for border talks, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
In Tuesday’s statement, Srivastava cited the talks to point out that the two sides have “agreed that the situation should be handled in a responsible manner and either side should not take any provocative action or escalate matters and ensure peace and tranquility as per bilateral agreements and protocol”.
“The Chinese side however, violated this understanding and engaged in provocative military maneouvers in the late night of 29th and on 30th August in an attempt to change the status quo in the South Bank area of Pangong Lake,” Srivastava said.
He added, “The Indian side responded to these provocative actions and took appropriate defensive measures along the LAC in order to safeguard our interests and defend the territorial integrity”.
Defence and security sources said the ground commanders’ level meeting Monday had led the two sides to engage in more discussions to resolve the situation. The meeting was meant to take stock of the present situation at the LAC and discuss measures required to keep “troops under control and avoid any face-off or physical clash between them”, the sources said.
The second meeting Tuesday was primarily hinged on the tactical aspects and rules of engagement of troops at the ground level, again to avoid face- offs or escalations. It went on for close to eight hours.
With inputs from Amrita Nayak Dutta