India-China stand-off: What caused the death of soldiers in Galwan?

The two nuclear armed powers have taken to fighting with sticks and stones along the lines of disputed LAC. Earlier the armies got engaged in stand-offs in Pangong Tso, Demchok and Daulat Beg Oldie in eastern Ladakh. Tensions at Galwan Valley have however risen with the killing of 20 Indian Army Personnel and injuring or killing of more than 40 Chinese soldiers, making it the new trouble spot. The faceoff took place during the de-escalation process underway in the Galwan Valley. Though no bullets have been fired in the clash (as per the agreement of not carrying guns within 2km of disputed border), the incident has given a blow to the carefully-crafted bilateral relationship that extended upto trade and business.

What is the Line of Actual Control?

The LAC or Line of Actual Control is the demarcation line that separates India-controlled territory from China-controlled territory. Formally, it was the informal cease-fire line after the 1962 war, which got accepted as LAC in a bilateral agreement in 1993. However, claim lines for both the nations are different. For India, LAC stretches up to a total length of 3,488 km, whereas for China it is only around 2,000 km. It is majorly divided into three sectors: the eastern sector which spans Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, the middle sector in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, and the western sector in Ladakh.

(Satellite image of the Galwan valley at the point where the Galwan river enters the Shyok river. Photo: The Wire/Google Maps)

When did we first hear about tensions between India and China on the LAC?

Face-offs and stand-offs at LAC are not new. The tension between the two nations arose on May 9, 2020 when a Chinese patrol on the Indian side of the LAC was confronted an Indian patrol in Naku La in Sikkim. Official acknowledgement of the evolvement of tensions at the border came on May 10 the statement issued the Army confirming clashes between India and Chinese patrols.

Earlier, a serious incident occurred on the night of May5-6 in the Pangong Tso Lake area in which soldiers from both sides were injured. However, Army Chief General M M Naravane said on May 14 that “both these incidents are neither co-related nor do they have any connection with other global or local activities”.

(Pangong Tso lake|Commons)

What is the importance of Pangong Tso Lake?

A famous tourist destination in Ladakh, Pangong Tso Lake is the world’s highest saltwater lake. It is a lake of 135 kilometre length that covers a total area above 700 square kilometres.The area has come into dispute as the LAC not only crosses through the land, but also through this lake. The 45 km-long western portion of the lake is in Indian control. India claims its portion of the lake till the easternmost finger, i.e. Finger 8. But Chinese soldiers have made incursions till Finger 4, thus, making Indian soldiers avoid patrolling the area. Videos of clashes between the two armies have gone viral earlier at the banks of the lake.

Besides strategic importance, the lake is important to locals of Ladakh as it serves them with rock salt which is consumed locally, and even exported (though availability of any documentation on import and export of rock salt is hard to define). Also it is a very important part of the Ladakhi ethos, which is why local people tend to retaliate against the Chinese army’s intrusions.

What is the status of India-China standoff at Galwan Valley?

According to latest reports, at least 20 Indian Army personnel have lost their lives after a face-off with the Chinese troops armed with sticks and stones. Number of Chinese soldiers injured have not been revealed, but it is said to cross 40. Martyred Indian Army personnel include commanding officer of a battalion at Galwan and 19 soldiers. (The image below provides names of the martyred Indian soldiers).

(List of Martyred Indian Soldiers in India-China standoff. Image Courtesy: ANI)

As per Indian Army, some soldiers had signs of being brutalised while some were pushed in the river. Some died of hypothermia. Bodies of some of the soldiers have been recovered and search is still on.

The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Wednesday that the sacrifices of soldiers along the border “will not go in vain”. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said the loss of soldiers in Galwan was “deeply disturbing and painful”. PM Modi has called for an All-Party Meeting on June 19 to discuss the Indo-China border dispute. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi held a phone conversation Wednesday afternoon. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement, “EAM conveyed the protest of the Government of India in the strongest terms” and that it will have a “serious impact” on the bilateral relationship.

What is China’s stand on Galwan dispute?

According to a Chinese government spokesman, the clash erupted after Indian soldiers ‘crossed the line, acted illegally, provoked and attacked the Chinese, resulting in both sides engaging in serious physical conflict and injury and death’. The Communist state has agreed to talks with Indian PM saying in a TV address, ‘There should be no doubt that India wants peace, but if provoked, India will provide an appropriate response’

It is the first time after 45 years that India has suffered casualties in a face-off with China. Last deaths were seen in 1975 when Indian soldiers were surprised an attack initiated Chinese soldiers in Arunachal Pradesh.

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