Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh warned on Thursday that India “has the capability to reply to aggression” on the one-year anniversary of India’s deadly border clash with Chinese troops along the two countries’ disputed Himlayan boundary.
“We seek world peace (but) if someone shows us an aggressive attitude, we will respond,” Defense Minister Singh told reporters on June 17 while inaugurating a new system of Indian border roads.
“[L]ast year in Galwan Valley, our soldiers displayed exemplary courage and valour in line of duty. I salute all brave soldiers who laid down their lives fighting for the nation [sic],” Singh said, as quoted by the Press Trust of India (PTI).
The defense minister referred to a deadly border skirmish between Indian and Chinese border regiments in Galwan Valley, located in the northern Indian state of Ladakh in the western Himalayas, on the intervening night of June 15-June 16, 2020.
The melee killed 20 Indian soldiers and an estimated 40 Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops, though Beijing never officially confirmed more than two PLA deaths in the conflict. Soldiers fought the brawl hand-to-hand, as traditional India-China military norms prohibit soldiers from discharging firearms along their unmarked border. The clash was the deadliest border encounter between India and China in 45 years. The two sides fought a formal border war in the Himalayas in 1962.
The Galwan Valley clash sparked an ongoing standoff between India and China that saw both countries deploy additional troops and military equipment to their unmarked Himalayan border in the weeks and months following the confrontation. India Today published a report in late May suggesting China had begun returning PLA troops to its border near Ladakh. The news followed a recent withdrawal of Chinese forces from the area, indicating that any previous PLA troop drawdowns from the Himalayan region may have been due, in part, to seasonal weather conditions.
“The capability of BRO [India’s Border Roads Organization] in constructing world class roads despite challenges, in tough and hilly terrain, (underlines) the mantra of Atma Nirbhar Bharat [sic],” Defense Minister Singh said on Thursday while dedicating India’s latest system of border roads. Atma Nirbhar Bharat means “Self-Reliant India” in Hindi and refers to an initiative by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to help New Delhi become less dependent on foreign supply chains, especially manufacturing hubs based in China. Singh said the new BRO projects were enabled through India’s Act East Policy, which was similarly envisioned by Modi.