A report citing anonymous Indian military sources on Thursday revealed that the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi will deploy 35,000 troops to the nation’s border with China, the same day China claimed both sides had largely “disengaged” there.
Indian officials disputed the statement by Chinese diplomats.
Tensions are high on the two nations’ mutual border, which runs along difficult Himalayan terrain, since Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers reportedly pitched tents on the Indian side of the border, then attacked Indian soldiers when confronted. The altercation was the deadliest between the two countries in half a century, leaving 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of PLA troops dead.
While China has refused to reveal its death toll, Indian officials claimed that about double the number of Chinese died as the number of Indians. The Communist Party denied that claim without elaborating. Some reports have accused China of silencing the relatives of the PLA soldiers killed to prevent their identities from becoming public.
India changed its border rules of engagement — which prevented them from using firearms against the Chinese and vice versa, resulting in brutal hand-to-hand combat featuring rocks and clubs spiked with barbed wire — following the incident. Now, Bloomberg reported on Thursday, it is also dramatically increasing its military presence along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), as its Chinese border is formally known.
“India is preparing to position an additional 35,000 troops along its disputed Himalayan border with China as the possibility of an early resolution to the deadly tensions between the two neighbors fades,” Bloomberg reported.
Zee News, an Indian media outlet, corroborated the report, citing “government sources” and adding to Bloomberg’s reporting a full quote:
“We are preparing to provide extreme cold weather portable cabins for around 35,000 troops that have been deployed in the Eastern Ladakh sector,” unnamed “government sources” reportedly told Zee News. The outlet, which typically maintains a tone favorable to New Delhi and has backed calls to boycott Chinese products in the country, claimed the Indian troops sent to the border will be those with experiencing handling the extreme weather conditions in Ladakh, where the confrontation with China occurred. Some of those killed in the brawl with PLA troops are believed to have died of hypothermia or fell off cliffs.
“Our soldiers deployed there have already done a tenure or two in Siachen, Eastern Ladakh or Northeast and they are physically and mentally prepared for a longer deployment there,” the sources told the outlet.
Zee News estimated that both sides had placed about 40,000 troops in Eastern Ladakh.
Bloomberg noted that it did not receive any official confirmation for its report from the Indian Army.
The news of a heightened Indian military presence along the border comes shortly after China’s ambassador to India claimed that both sides had de-escalated tensions there successfully.
“Border troops have disengaged in most localities, situation on ground is de-escalating and temperature is coming down. China is committed to peaceful development and is not a strategic threat to India,” Chinese Ambassador to New Delhi Sun Weidong said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin similarly claimed on Thursday that both sides had “disengaged” in the area.
“The front-line frontier defense forces of the two countries have disengaged in most locations, and the current situation continues to develop in the direction of easing and cooling,” Wang claimed.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs denied the claim within hours.
“Some progress has been made, but disengagement process not yet been completed. We expect that Chinese side will sincerely work with us for complete disengagement and de-escalation,” Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said.
The conflicting reports of escalation and disengagement also come weeks after both sides claimed to be withdrawing in the aftermath of the incident. Following Modi’s visit to the border personally to salute the soldiers injured in the clash, the Chinese Foreign Ministry claimed that both Indian and Chinese troops had pulled back away from the Galwan Valley, the Ladakh area where the two sides clashed. The Galwan Valley is Indian territory, though China began disputing the claim after the incident. Multiple Indian news outlets reported that both sides had pulled their troops back between one and three kilometers from the Galwan Valley, though they remained in the area rather than being withdrawn entirely.
In perhaps a sign of concern on the part of the Chinese government, the state propaganda outlet Global Times published an article on Thursday dismissing India’s new French-made fighter jets as inferior to China’s fleet, asserting the model “does not stand much of a chance against a stealth, fourth generation one like the J-20,” China’s stealth fighter.
“It is common knowledge that a generational gap in fighter jets represents a huge difference that cannot be made up by tactics and numbers in combat, military observers said. China’s J-20 is far superior to the Rafale, they said,” the Global Times insisted.