In a dramatic escalation of the ongoing border stand-off between India and China in Ladakh, 20 Indian soldiers including a commanding officer died in a clash with the Chinese troops. This is the biggest loss suffered by India in a stand-off with China since 1975 when Four Indian soldiers died when a patrol of Assam Rifles jawans was ambushed at Tulung La in Arunachal Pradesh in 1975. The ANI has reported that 43 Chinese soldiers also were killed in the clash. And the US media reports quoting its intelligence officials have said that 35 Chinese troops have been killed in the clashes. However, China has so far neither confirmed nor denied its casualties. The killings on both sides have taken the border stalemate to a boiling point with the two countries on the brink of a full-fledged war. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for an all-party meet on the issue on June 19. On Tuesday, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh went to the Prime Minister’s residence for a late night meeting. The duo are said to have been joined by Home Minister Amit Shah, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
The coming days will be crucial as to what happens next. However from the statements emanating from New Delhi and Beijing both sides are trying to play down the incident and get back to resolving the issue through dialogue. In his first statement, the PM has said that India wants peace but was capable of giving befitting reply if instigated. India, he added, has tried that the differences with China do not become disputes. On the other hand, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian has said his country doesn’t don’t wish to see more clashes, while urging India to avoid “provocative gestures” that could complicate the border situation. Lijian said both countries were having close communication trying to resolve the crisis through diplomatic and military channels.
But this hardly detracts from the fraught situation on the border. The two sides have irreconcilable differences on the perception of the Line of Control, more so in Ladakh. A day after the killing of 20 soldiers China has laid claim to entire Galwan Valley, a strategic geographical feature in Ladakh. New Delhi has demanded China to go back to the status quo as it existed before May 5. China which has already captured areas falling in Galwan Valley, Pangong Tso, Hot Springs etc has so far refused to vacate them. The stand-off between the countries is likely going to be a long haul. As things stand, war will be in neither country’s interest, a reality that also informs the statements of the leaders of the two countries. The way out is to continue engagement on military and diplomatic levels. It may take time but this remains the only viable option outside a military confrontation that will be mutually destructive and, in the end, may offer no solution.
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