Modi says China isn’t occupying Indian territory after clash

China reiterates that India provoked the border clashes

by BLOOMBERG / pic by BLOOMBERG

NEW DELHI • India’s Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi has walked into a diplomatic mine eld over his nation’s disputed border with China.

The hashtag #ModiSurrendersToChina was trending on Twitter on Saturday after Modi stated no one had entered Indian territory or captured any military posts in the deadly clashes that resulted in the death of 20 Indian soldiers and the capture by the Chinese military — and later release — of 10 more.

“Neither is anyone inside our territory nor is any of our posts captured,” Modi told Opposition leaders at an all-party meeting late last Friday. His statement raised questions over where the soldiers were when the clashes took place — in Indian or Chinese territory — in an area where a large part of the boundary is unmarked. It also contradicted the assertions of his Foreign Ministry.

Just two days earlier, India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi that the Chinese army had tried to erect a post in the Galwan Valley on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) — a 3,488km (2,167 mile) undemarcated border. In a statement after the call, New Delhi accused China of “intent to change the facts on ground in violation of all our agreements to not change the status quo”.

“PM was clear that India would respond firmly to any attempts to transgress the LAC. In fact, he specifically emphasised that in contrast to the past neglect of such challenges, Indian forces now decisively counter any violations of LAC,” the statement reads.

“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 situation between India and China is “very tough”, and the two nations have got a “big problem”, US President Donald Trump told reporters, according to a report from news agency Press Trust of India. The US is talking to both nations and will “try and help them out”, Trump said.

Within hours of Modi’s initial comments, China’s Foreign Minis- try spokesman Zhao Lijian tweeted that Indian troops had provoked the deadly skirmish and reiterated that China claimed the Galwan Valley as its own.

“India’s frontline troops, in violation of the agreement reached at the commander-level meeting, once again crossed the LAC for deliberate provocation when the situation in the Galwan Valley was already easing,” Lijian said of the June 15 clashes.

The deadly clash had dealt a heavy blow to China-India ties, which were already suffering, said Sun Shihai, director of the China Centre for South Asian Studies in Sichuan University.

“I think Modi is trying to appease the searing anti-China nationalism at home and avoid the further escalation of the situation into another China-India war, even though he is likely to face some backlash from Opposition at home,” Sun said. “China will likely take Modi’s statement as an effort to ease off the tension, as neither side wants a war.”

Modi’s comments drew criticism from Indian army veterans and former civil servants.

“I’m shattered to see India quietly accepting China changing status of LAC in Eastern Ladakh,” tweeted Rameshwar Roy, retired lieutenant general and former chief of India’s Assam Rifles division. “What a sad day for every soldier like me.”

Former national security advisor Shivshankar Menon called the PM’s comments “an ill-considered and inaccurate statement that con- cedes territory and the gains of aggression”, according to a report in The Wire. “If this is so, why and where were our soldiers killed?”

Incidents of a face-off have also been reported at the disputed Pangong Tso — a glacial lake at 14,000ft (4,267m) in the Tibetan plateau, portions of which are claimed by both, apart from the Galwan Valley, which was one of the early triggers of the 1962 India-China war.