India’s President Ram Nath Kovind said the country had deployed additional forces to its disputed Himalayan border with China, as tensions over a months-long border stand-off continue to flare despite multiple rounds of talks.
Kovind told a joint session of parliament on Friday that the government had strengthened its military presence at Line of Actual Control (LAC) along the countries’ shared 3,488km (2,167-mile) border to protect the country’s sovereignty.
“My government is fully committed to the protection of the interests of the nation, and is also vigilant,” he said. “Additional forces have also been deployed to protect India’s sovereignty over the LAC.”
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The move despite the two sides agreeing to push for the early disengagement of troops after the ninth round of border talks between senior military officials concluded on Monday, with a tenth round of negotiations in the works.
The previous day external affairs minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on condemned China for massing troops and building infrastructure at the border, describing a deadly clash last year as having “profoundly disturbed” their relationship.
Jaishankar said at an academic conference on Thursday that the violent skirmish in the Himalayan region of Ladakh last June that left 20 Indian soldiers dead and caused an unspecified number of Chinese casualties had “not only signalled a disregard for commitments about minimising troop levels, but also showed a willingness to breach peace and tranquillity”. It was the first deadly clash along the disputed border since 1975.
“That is why the events in eastern Ladakh last year have so profoundly disturbed the relationship,” Jaishankar said in an address to the All India Conference of China Studies, an annual event held by the New Delhi-based Institute of Chinese Studies.
“Significantly, to date, we have yet to receive a credible explanation for the change in China’s stance or reasons for massing of troops in the border areas. It is a different matter that our own forces have responded appropriately and held their own in very challenging circumstances.”
Relations between the two nations have plummeted to their lowest point in decades, with Beijing and Delhi still in a deadlock after months of negotiations have failed to end the stand-off.
The Indian Army said on Monday that troops from the two sides had a “minor face-off” last week in the Sikkim region, but that it was “resolved by local commanders”. China’s foreign ministry urged India to “meet China halfway” and to “refrain from any unilateral actions that may complicate or exacerbate the border situation”.
The tensions have prompted calls in India for greater decoupling from China. The Indian government on Tuesday made permanent its ban on 59 Chinese apps, including TikTok and WeChat, for national security reasons. Beijing has urged the Indian side to reverse the bans, which it said were in violation of World Trade Organization principles.
Jaishankar said he did not have a “definitive answer to offer at this point in time” on how to address concerns about the strained relationship, but stressed that the Line of Actual Control needed to be “strictly observed and respected”. He said that there were ongoing negotiations about disengagement from the border areas, but that all sides’ interests needed to be respected.
“Any expectation that they can be brushed aside, and that life can carry on undisturbed despite the situation at the border, that is simply not realistic,” he said. “Obviously each state will have its own interests, concerns and priorities, but sensitivity to them cannot be one-sided.”
The LAC was formed after China and India went to war over the border in 1962, but much of it is unmarked, leading to disputes between patrolling soldiers that can turn violent.
Jaishankar said that there had not been significant progress towards a common understanding of the LAC since the two sides rebuilt ties after their war, and that there had been increasing border construction, especially on the Chinese side.
“Since 2014, there may have been more efforts by India to reduce this very considerable gap, including greater budget commitments and a better road-building record,” he said. “Nevertheless, the infrastructure differential remains significant and, as we saw last year, consequential.”
Reports that China had built a new village in disputed territory at Arunachal Pradesh caused fresh tensions to flare last week, but Beijing dismissed it as “normal construction” on what it said was China’s own territory.
“It has often been said that the ability of India and China to work together will determine the Asian century,” Jaishankar said. “At this time, it is equally important to recognise that their difficulties in doing so may well undermine it.”
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