2020 India China Border Clash At Galwan Valley In Ladakh

On 15 June, 2020 while the de-escalation process was in progress in the Galwan Valley, twenty Indian soldiers of 16th Bihar Regiment including the commanding officer (a Colonel) were killed with 35 casualties on the Chinese side in a hand-to-hand combat involving stones, iron rods and batons wrapped in barbed wire. While three Indian soldiers died on the spot, others died later due to injuries and hypothermia. Some Indian soldiers had also been taken momentarily captive.

The clash took place near the fast-flowing Galwan River, resulting in soldiers from both sides falling into a rivulet, increasing the number of injured and dead. Bodies were later recovered from the Shyok River. The standoff is a Chinese pre-emptive measure in response to India’s Darbuk–Shyok–DBO Road infrastructure project in Ladakh. The DBO road project is seen by the Chinese as a tool to offset the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. Extensive Chinese infrastructure development is also taking place in these disputed border regions.

2020 India China Border Clash At Galwan Valley In Ladakh
2020 India China Border Clash At Galwan Valley In Ladakh

Summary

  • On 15 June, 2020 while the de-escalation process was in progress in the Galwan Valley clashes took place between Indian and Chinese troops
  • 20 Indian soldiers of 16th Bihar Regiment including the commanding officer (a Colonel) were killed
  • Inidan Goverment sources, citing U.S. intelligence report, said their have been atleast 35 casualties on the Chinese side including the Chinese commanding officer
  • The clash took place near the fast-flowing Galwan River, resulting in soldiers from both sides falling into a river
  • China and Pakistan are linked by the Karakoram highway via the Khunjerab Pass
  • China is looking to link Tibet with occupied Gilgit Baltistan through a better all-weather road to service CPEC throughout the year
  • India’s Darbuk–Shyok–DBO Road infrastructure project is seen by the Chinese as a tool to offset the China Pakistan Economic Corridor
  • China attempted to capture Galwan Valley as a pre-emptive measure to stall this DBO Road infrastructure project in Ladakh
  • The Galwan Valley was saved for India from China in 1962 War by the Nepali Gorkha soldiers
  • China has changed its claims over the valley thrice, now claiming that the entire Galwan valley belongs to China

India-China War of 1962

The border between China and India is disputed at twenty different locations.

The Galwan valley was one of the flashpoints in the Sino-India War of 1962. China has changed its claims over the valley thrice, now claiming that the entire Galwan valley belongs to China. The Galwan Valley was saved for India from China in 1962 War by the Nepali Gorkha soldiers, under Naik Subedar Jung Bahadur Gurung.

Strategic importance of Galwan Valley in Ladakh
Strategic importance of Galwan Valley in Ladakh. News18 creative.

India established the Galwan post on 4 July, 1962 that led to a standoff between Indian and Chinese troops for three months. War broke out in October 1962, with the Indian post being first encircled and then attacked. Of the 68 personnel at the post, 36 were killed, rest wounded and taken as prisoners of war (POWs). The six Indian positions on both sides of Galwan river were then overrun by the Chinese. After the war, China advanced its claim line, laying claim to an additional 2,000 sq km area of Ladakh. The present stand-off is at an area west of this claim line.

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LAC Violations

India recorded over 660 LAC violations by the People’s Liberation Army in 2019 with 108 aerial violations in the same year; a sharp spike from previous years of only 1 to 2 percent. A report by diplomat Shyam Saran in 2013 claimed that India had lost 640 km2 (247 sq mi) due to “area denial” by Chinese patrolling.

The last major confrontation between China and India was the Doklam standoff of 2017 that lasted for 73 days. Since then, China has increased military presence in the Tibetan plateau region, bringing in Type 15 tanks, Harbin Z-20 helicopters, CAIG Wing Loong II unmanned aerial vehicles and PCL-181 vehicle-mounted howitzers.

In May, GreatGameIndia published satellite images which showed expanding Chinese base near Ladakh. The Ngari Gunsa Airport has also been expanded with Shenyang J-16s and J-11s fighter jets stationed. The airport is 200 kilometres (124 mi) from Pangong Tso, Ladakh.

The Incursions

Indian and Chinese troops clashed in early May 2020 at two different sections of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), near Pangong Tso in Ladakh and the Naku La mountain pass in Sikkim resulting in injuries on both sides. Even as these incidents were underway, a serious Chinese intrusion in the Galwan Valley area was already in progress and it is this incident that has become a new flash point between India and China.

The first of these incidents was at Galwan on 5 May, 2020. The second incident occurred on 9 May in Naku La, in northern Sikkim, when about 200 Chinese soldiers temporarily occupied Indian territory, but withdrew and pitched up temporary shelters on their side.

India China clash at Galwan Valley in Ladakh
India China clash at Galwan Valley in Ladakh. BBC

This was followed by the third intrusion that took place near the Pangong Lake on May 12, 2020 when Chinese soldiers occupied territory between Finger 8 and Finger 4. The ‘Finger heights’ were taken over by the Chinese by 18 May. The next confrontation was reportedly in Harsil in Uttarakhand in the Middle Sector of the LAC.

The Daily Telegraph revealed that up to 12,000 Chinese troops pushed over the border into India last month amid border clashes. China has occupied more than sixty square kilometres of Indian territory in eastern Ladakh, according to a senior Indian Army source.

The Darbuk–Shyok–DBO Road Infrastructure Project

Experts believe the standoff is a result from pre-emptive measures on China’s part in response to the strategic Darbuk–Shyok–DBO Road infrastructure project in Ladakh. Extensive Chinese infrastructure development is also taking place in these disputed border regions. The change in status and bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019 by the Indian government is also one of the major factors.

“Broadly, our understanding is that the PLA’s focus on the Galwan valley is prompted by multiple objectives that are mostly linked to stalling the upgrade of border infrastructure that has picked up pace in the past two years,” a person familiar with the government’s position on the standoff said.

Darbuk–Shyok–DBO Road Infrastructure Project
Darbuk–Shyok–DBO Road Infrastructure Project

China wants to stall the construction of the winding 255-km Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie road that would give the Indian army easy access to the last military post south of the dominating Karakoram Pass. The Indian side is, however, determined to complete construction of the entire stretch by this summer including the 60-metre bridge across the Galwan rivulet or nallah near the point of its confluence with Shyok river.

“We have to complete the concrete bridge this month, and the road well before the onset of winter,” one official said.

CPEC – the unfinished Kargil War business

On its part, China has been pushing to open a route through this sector for a better linkage to Pakistan. Currently, China and Pakistan are linked by the Karakoram highway via the Khunjerab Pass. But China is looking to link Tibet with occupied Gilgit Baltistan through a better all-weather road. The idea is to have a better all weather road to Pakistan so that China Pakistan Economic Corridor is serviced throughout the year. India’s DBO road project is seen by the Chinese as a tool to offset the China Pakistan Economic Corridor.

China Pakistan Economic Corridor CPEC
China Pakistan Economic Corridor CPEC

China has already built a road through Gilgit’s Shaksgam valley that lies north-west of Siachen glacier. Pakistan had ceded around 5,163 sq km of the Shaksgam valley to China in a controversial 1963 boundary agreement.

If the Chinese are able to cut India off at Daulat Beg Oldie, they can put pressure through axis Murgo-Saser La-Sansoma , a major logistical supply point on Shyok River for Indian soldiers deployed to dominate Siachen Glacier. That would help Beijing’s ally Pakistan.

“In a way,” an army officer said, “you could say that what General Pervez Musharaff could not achieve through the Kargil war, China’s paramount leader Xi Jinping, chairman of its Central Military Commission, expects to achieve before he demits office”.

Galwan Valley Skirmish – A Doorway to Aksai Chin

The fighting at Galwan, began after troops under Colonel Santosh Babu’s command dismantled a Chinese tent sent up near a position code-named Patrol Point 14, close to the mouth of the Galwan river. The tent had been dismantled following a meeting between Lieutenant General Harinder Singh, who commands the Leh-based XIV Corps, and Major-General Lin Liu, the head of the Xinjiang military district.

Inside two days of the disengagement agreed to at the two Generals’ meeting in Chushul, though, the PLA set up a fresh tent at Patrol Point 14, inside territory claimed by India. Colonel Babu’s unit, government sources said, was ordered to ensure the tent was removed.

Satellite image of Galwan Valley
Satellite image of Galwan Valley. Reuters

For reasons that remain unclear, the PLA refused to vacate Point 14 — reneging on the June 6 agreement — leading to a melee in which the Chinese tent was burned down, the sources said.

The PLA, government sources have said, alleges Colonel Babu’s troops crossed a buffer zone separating the two sides, violating border-management protocols which mandates the use of white flags and banners to signal to the other side that it must turn back from the territory it is on.

Satellite image of Galwan Valley
Satellite image of Galwan Valley. Reuters

The burning of the tent, the sources said, was followed by stone-pelting on Sunday, and then a massive Monday night attack on the 16 Bihar’s unprepared troops. Large rocks were also thrown towards the Indian positions by Chinese troops stationed on the high ridge above Point 14, one source said. Though some fought back using the improvised weapons carried by the PLA, most had no means of defence.

Furious hand-to-hand fighting raged across the Galwan river valley for over eight hours on Monday night, as People’s Liberation Army assault teams armed with iron rods as well as batons wrapped in barbed wire hunted down and slaughtered troops of the 16 Bihar Regiment, a senior government official familiar with the debriefing of survivors at hospitals in Leh has told News18.

“Even unarmed men who fled into the hillsides were hunted down and killed,” one officer said. “The dead include men who jumped into the Galwan river in a desperate effort to escape.”

Satellite image of Galwan Valley
Satellite image of Galwan Valley. Reuters

Government sources say at least another two dozen soldiers are battling life-threatening injuries, and over 110 have needed treatment. “The toll will likely go up,” a military officer with knowledge of the issue said.

Large numbers of dead bodies, Indian military officials say, were handed over by the PLA on Monday morning — possibly men dragged away in the course of hand-to-hand fighting, and then killed.

Indian Army caught Napping

The basic issue of the movement and build-up of such a large force going undetected is a matter of concern and points to an intelligence failure. There were indications that Chinese troops were moving from Lhasa to Ngari and these were accompanied by the elements of Joint Logistic Support Force. It is not known if this was noticed, and acted upon in time. But even so, a build up of two brigades in the area should have been picked by the intelligence and surveillance agencies and information passed on to the Army else it points to a serious lapse.

It is obvious that the infrastructure development would upset China’s calculations and that China would react to these developments. Now how, where and when China reacts should have been factored in by India. It should have been known that China will react to the development of the Darbukh-Shyok-DBO (DSDBO) road – and India should have prepared for the same.

This is what Lt Gen H.S. Panag, former Army commander, also believes in when he says ‘We made a fundamental military mistake of not securing the area in strength before we attempted to improve our border infrastructure in sensitive areas. The PLA pre-empted us.’

Either India did not apprehend a Chinese reaction or underplayed it. In both cases, it points to a failure on our part.

China claims Sovereignty over Galvan Valley

Amid the standoff, India decided to move around 12,000 additional workers to the region to complete Indian infrastructure development. The first train with over 1,600 workers left Jharkhand on 14 June 2020 for Udhampur, from where they will go on to assist India’s Border Roads Organization at the Sino-Indian border.

On 16 June, Chinese Colonel Zhang Shuili, spokesperson for the PLA’s Western Command, said that the Indian military violated bilateral consensus; adding that “the sovereignty over the Galvan Valley area has always belonged to China.”

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