India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has walked into a diplomatic minefield over his nation’s disputed border with China.
The hashtag #ModiSurrendersToChina was trending on Twitter 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 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 and checkered with pockets of ‘no man’s land.’ It also contradicts the assertions of his own 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 — a 2,167-mile un-demarcated border. In a statement after the call, New Delhi accused China of an “intent to change the facts on ground in violation of all our agreements to not change the status quo.”
Modi’s statement is a set back to military talks between the two nations aimed at de-escalating the situation at several places along the border where forces have clashed in the recent past, and also legitimizes Chinese claims. It’s provoked angry responses from India’s army veterans and analysts who saw it as India ceding territory to China to avoid escalation. The calls for Modi to clarify his stand are expected to become louder after China’s reiteration on Saturday that Indian soldiers had violated agreements.
The Prime Minister’s Office and the Indian foreign ministry didn’t immediately respond to requests seeking comments.
“The biggest implication is that wherever the Chinese have in fact changed the ground status quo — whether in Galwan Valley or Pangong Tso or elsewhere — is tacitly being accepted by the government as de facto Chinese claims,” said Vipin Narang, associate professor of political science at MIT and author of ‘Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era: Regional Powers and International Conflict. “One can litigate whether this is in fact ‘Indian territory,’ but it is tacitly accepting whatever faits accomplis China has undertaken.”
Within hours of Modi’s comments, China’s foreign ministry 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 front-line troops, in violation of the agreement reached at the commander-level meeting, once again crossed the Line of Actual Control 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 Center 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 adviser Shivshankar Menon called the prime minister’s comments “an ill-considered and inaccurate statement that concedes 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 14,000 feet 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.
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