For the First Time in 45 Years, Colonel, Soldiers Martyred in Face-Off With China. What Happened to “Deescalation”?


For the First Time in 45 Years, Colonel, Soldiers Martyred in Face-Off With China. What Happened to “Deescalation”?

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Along with a nationwide lockdown and the global coronavirus pandemic, for the past six weeks India has also been witnessing a tense standoff at its border with China. The tensions began when reports emerged of the Chinese army moving troops and vehicles across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) into what is regarded as Indian territory. Senior level officials from both sides have engaged in talks in an effort to ensure “de-escalation” of the situation. However, last night, reports emerged that violent clashes between the troops of both countries stationed at the Galwan Valley had turned fatal, leading to the deaths of a colonel and two soldiers from the Indian side. According to a statement by the army, there were casualties on both sides.

The deaths of Indian troops is the first time a conflict on the Chinese border has claimed lives since 1975. Indian journalist and retired colonel Ajai Shukla called out the Indian government for pushing a narrative centred on “disengagement” and “mutual withdrawal”, pointing out that the clash site, Galwan Valley, is territory that has been in India’s possession since 1962.

The soldiers were not shot at but killed in a physical fight. The clash between the Indian and Chinese troops in Galwan Valley was literally fought with sticks and stones, and lead to the deaths of soldiers on both sides. “There was no firing. No firearms were used. It was violent hand-to-hand scuffles,” an unnamed officer was quoted by news agency Agence France Presse as saying.

In a statement on the confrontation, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian accused the Indian side of aggression, saying that Indian troops “crossed the border twice for illegal activities and launched provocative attacks against Chinese personnel, leading to serious physical conflicts between troops from both sides,” at a press conference.

China’s state-run media also backed its foreign ministry’s position. Hu Xijin, the editor of Global Times, a Chinese newspaper, used Twitter to warn India to not be “arrogant” or “misread China’s restraint as being weak”.

With talks between high-level officials scheduled, Shukla provided an update on the situation, saying that India’s casualty count had been underreported. He also mentioned it was possible that many Indian troops had been held by the Chinese in the aftermath.

While the reports on the exact number of casualties on both sides have been called into question, one thing is certain: with the deaths along the LAC – the first in decades – the “de-escalation” that both countries have claimed to be pursuing has eluded them.