New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has vowed India will defend its sovereignty in his first public statement since deadly clashes along its contested border with China resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian troops and an unknown number of Chinese casualties.
“India wants peace,” Modi said in a televised address Wednesday. “But when provoked India will and is capable of giving an appropriate answer under any circumstances. And on the subject of our martyred, brave soldiers – the nation will be proud that they died while hitting back.”
Both sides confirmed on Wednesday talks between senior military commanders are underway to lower the temperature on the Himalayan border conflict that’s been brewing for weeks.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian described the situation at the border as “stable and controllable” and said Beijing was in close communication with New Delhi through diplomatic and military channels.
“The right and wrong of this is very clear, this incident happened at the Chinese side of the line of actual control and China is not to blame for this,” Zhao told reporters at a regular briefing Wednesday. Indian soldiers had “seriously violated the consensus,” he said, which led to “fierce physical confrontation between the two sides’ border troops and resulted in casualties.”
In near sub-zero temperatures in the thin air of 15,000 feet, Chinese and Indian soldiers attacked each other with stones, iron rods and bamboo poles wrapped in barbed wire laced with nails. By the time they were finished 20 Indian soldiers were dead, along with an unknown number of Chinese casualties.
The violence broke out Monday afternoon and went on until midnight on the Tibetan plateau along the freezing Galwan river, Indian officials said, asking not to be identified citing rules on speaking to the media. It’s the first time in 45 years that a military skirmish along the contested Himalayan border had turned deadly, and it signalled a sharp deterioration in ties between the two regional giants.
“China has lodged strong protests and stern representations with the Indian side,” Zhao said. “Both sides agreed to resolve this related matter through dialog and consultation and make efforts to ease the border situation and safeguard peace and tranquility in the border area.”
New Delhi sees the conflict differently.
India says its troops came under attack when they protested the actions of Chinese soldiers, who constructed a fresh post in the buffer zone that was designed to ensure peace, Indian officials with knowledge of the matter said.
In a statement late Tuesday evening, India said the clashes had occurred following an attempt by the Chinese to alter the status quo and in violation of de-escalation terms agreed in recent talks.