The head of the armed forces of India warned on Monday that a military response to the Chinese invasion of Indian territory in the Himalayas is still possible, even after over a month of talks to cool tensions between Beijing and New Delhi.
General Bipin Rawat, India’s Chief of Defense Staff, said in interviews that any military attack on India’s part would only occur “if talks at the military and diplomatic level fail” and that said talks continued. The remarks followed reports last week, however, of military reinforcements on both sides of the India-China border and a large Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) drill near the border, formally referred to as the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
India and China experienced their most violent encounter in half a century in June, triggered by an Indian ranking officer approaching PLA troops that had crossed into Indian territory at the LAC. When the officer asked why they were erecting tents in India, the Chinese troops attacked, beating Indian soldiers to death with spiked clubs, barbed wire, and other makeshift weapons. Some reportedly also died falling off cliffs and of hypothermia in the difficult Himalayan terrain.
The rules of engagement prior to the attack prevented either side from using firearms at the border, hence the use of rocks and clubs.
The violent exchange in the Galwan Valley left 20 Indian soldiers dead. While the Chinese Communist Party refused to acknowledge any casualties publicly, Indian officials claimed that Beijing suffered at least twice that number of dead and injured. China disputed that claim but did not offer any further comment.
To prevent a repeat of the incident, Indian and Chinese diplomats have engaged in talks for weeks to maintain a more regular presence on either side of the LAC. Discussing the talks, however, Rawat told the Hindustan Times on Monday that another physical exchange was not impossible.
“Transgressions along the LAC occur due to differing perceptions about its alignment. Defense services are tasked to monitor and carry out surveillance and prevent such transgressions turning into intrusions. Whole of government approach is adopted to peacefully resolve any such activity and prevent intrusions,” Rawat told the newspaper. “Defence services always remain prepared for military actions should all efforts to restore status quo along the LAC do not succeed.”
The Indian outlet WIO News also quoted Rawat as affirming that a “military option” against the Chinese was “on, but only if talks fail.”
Rawat’s remarks follow a report in the Times of India, quoting the news service ANI, that Indian diplomats rejected an offer by the Communist Party for “equidistant disengagement” from a key part of the border, the Finger area of Ladakh. The Galwan Valley is also in Ladakh, and China recently began claiming it after the incident. The Indian negotiators reportedly rejected the offer because the area in question is not equidistant from China and India — it is Indian territory, so the Chinese are requesting India move Indian troops out of Indian territory.
“The Indian side is firm that the Chinese should first disengage and then the two sides can discuss de-escalation from Eastern Ladakh and Depsang Plains and Daulat Beg Oldi areas,” the Times of India reported.
Using satellite images, the American magazine Forbes reported last week seeing both Indian and Chinese advanced fighter jets nearing their mutual border. The Chinese reportedly placed multiple J-20 fighters in Hotan, a city in the occupied Uyghur region about 200 miles from Ladakh. Indian pilots, according to the Hindustan Times, had recently been training for flying in the mountains in Himachal Pradesh, the state bordering Ladakh to the south.
China sent its foreign minister, Wang Yi, to Tibet on August 14, as well, another sign of intensified focus on tensions with India. Tibet borders India; Wang is the first senior Communist Party official to visit the border between India and Tibet, including, according to Chinese news sources, disputed territory with India.
“[T]he security and stability of Tibet is of pivotal importance to China’s overall development,” Wang said in a statement regarding his visit.
India’s response to the Galwan Valley massacre has included not just talks and military preparation, but economic moves meant to weaken China’s influence in the country. The most significant of these moves occurred shortly after the killings: the banning of dozens of mobile phone applications made in China from use in India. The initial batch of 59 banned applications including WeChat and Tiktok, two very popular social media applications; subsequent rounds of bans addressed copycat programs like “Tiktok lite.”
Outside of government measures, popular movements at the grassroots level in India are calling for a complete boycott of the Chinese economy. Many Indian people responded to the clash with China by posting videos of themselves throwing Chinese-made products in the trash onto social media, meant as a symbolic gesture to end China’s profits. Other burned Chinese dictator Xi Jinping in effigy and staged protests urging an end to business with China.