In the wake of the deadly Galwan Valley clash, a former Indian Army general, D.S. Hooda, had said India’s inability to understand the signals from the Chinese side led to the incident.
On June 15, 2020, armies of the two nuclear-armed neighbors clashed at Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh in what is called the deadliest border conflict between them in decades.
Twenty Indian soldiers lost their lives and China officially admitted to only four casualties, that too after several months. The two countries have been locked in a border standoff for more than a year now.
“It is clear that we did not understand the signals of the Chinese side. Not only at the level of the army but also the political leadership could not understand it,” Lt. Gen. Hooda (retired), who headed Indian Army’s Northern Command, had said on June 17, 2020, according to a BBC report.
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Reports suggested that a scuffle had broken out between Indian and Chinese forces on the disputed border.
In a statement, the Indian Army said, “during the process of de-escalation in the Galwan Valley, there was a violent clash last night in which both the sides have suffered losses”. Hours later another statement was issued which put the number of soldiers killed in the conflict at 20.
State broadcaster Prasar Bharati News Services had tweeted that 45 soldiers of the Chinese army had been killed. Months later, China said it had lost four PLA soldiers in the clash.
Army Sources: Over 45 casualties on Chinese PLA side. Maj Gen level talks on to defuse Galwan situation. No Indian soldier unaccounted for– No One Is Missing. No firing at all on Monday night.
— Prasar Bharati News Services पी.बी.एन.एस. (@PBNS_India) June 17, 2020
Galwan Valley Clash- How Did It Start?
In 2017, India and China had been locked in a 70-day standoff at Doklam near India-Bhutan-China trijunction.
Despite such tensions, the two countries continued to maintain bilateral relations until April-May last year, when their armies were locked in a border standoff, this time in eastern Ladakh.
In May last year, reports started pouring in about a scuffle between the two PLA and the Indian Army in north Sikkim, suggesting that similar scuffles may have taken place around the Pangong Tso lake.
However, the Indian army did not respond to the queries in clear terms, and the journalists were asked to “avoid spreading rumors in the media and exaggerating the news”.
Over the next few weeks, both India and China kept blaming each other for disrupting the order at the LAC. While India’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that “the activities of the Chinese side have hindered the normal patrolling work by the Indian side”, his Chinese counterpart accused India of “encroachment and infiltration”.
A week before the violent clashes between the two forces at Galwan, diplomats and military commanders of the two countries met in Ladakh. At the meeting, both countries cited their commitment to finding a solution to the border stand-off.
On the night of June 15, reports suggested that a violent clash between the two forces ensued, and the number of casualties on both sides remained a matter of speculation.
On June 19, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated in an all-party meeting, “No one has infiltrated our territory. No one has come in nor has anyone else occupied any of our posts”.
It was in August, four months after the tensions at the LAC began, that India said it is taking concrete steps to strengthen its position at the Galwan, and also admitted that the events at Galwan were “a well-planned and deliberate operation to have an edge”.
The following month the two countries issued their first joint statement in which they decided that the number of troops would not be raised any further.
It took the two sides almost 10 months to start withdrawing their forces from Pangong Tso in Ladakh. Even then, the Chinese did not pull out all their forces from the other sectors, making India realize that its own capabilities on the border needed to be enhanced.
In January 2021, Indian Army chief General MM Naravane noted that conflict situations may arise with China on the central and the eastern Sectors, something “we need to reorganize and expand our capabilities”.
India- China: Impact On Ties
At the height of the tensions with China, India had announced a ban on more than 100 Chinese mobile apps, along with putting restrictions on the import of Chinese goods into the country. Despite such measures, bilateral trade between India and China increased manifold.
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In fact, China replaced the US as India’s biggest trading partner for 2020-21. The BBC report quoted Swasthi Rao, an assistant professor in the Department of Security and Strategy, Aligarh Muslim University, as saying that it is impossible “to separate two economies so big, that are both market and neighbors to each other.
Gone are the days when we were banning Chinese apps because our soldiers were getting killed. Now there is no talk of boycotting China”.
In April and May 2021, India was reeling under a devastating second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. A bulk of the medical supplies during the time also reached India from China.
According to the Chinese government, it sent to India around 26,000 ventilators and oxygen concentrators. Also, more than 15,000 patient monitors and 3800 tons of pharmaceutical materials were reportedly sent to India from China in the month of April.
India or China: Who Holds An Edge?
On June 3, 2021, Joint Secretary in the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, Arindam Bagchi, stated that “the process of withdrawing the troops is not yet complete”.
It seems that the two forces stand face to face in many sectors along the LAC, and both the countries are working to enhance their military capabilities on the border, to counter each other.
However, many experts have noted that in the past year, India has consistently worked to strengthen its ties with other countries.
Over the past few years, the relation between China and the US has nosedived, with the US working with various forums like the G-7 to isolate China. India can boast a more robust foreign policy and enjoys cordial relations with the major world powers.
This, according to Dr. Ping Que Chen, assistant professor in the Department of Diplomacy at National Chengchi University, Taiwan, provides India an edge over China in talks.
He highlighted this to the BBC’s Chinese Service, by saying, “Many analysts will say that India’s relationship with Western alliances has increased, but I do not believe so.
India is open to its options. India has more options, which means it has more external alliances in case of a dispute. This will give India an edge in any talks with China. Last year India did this well”.