India on Thursday made the normalization of ties with China conditional on the restoration of the status quo along the line of actual control, or LAC, and disengagement of troops, signalling a hardening of position amid a massive buildup of Chinese troops, tanks and artillery near the un-demarcated border.
New Delhi also warned that the continuation of tensions would damage ties, acknowledging for the first time Chinese troops massing along the 3,488-km LAC, in violation of a 1993 pact. In response, India, too, has sent in reinforcements, the foreign ministry said.
In a strongly worded statement, foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said it was “Chinese actions thus far, which have led to increase in tension in the region and also to the violent face-off of 15 June with casualties." The reference was to a bloody clash between Indian and Chinese troops in the Galwan region of Ladakh that claimed lives of 20 Indian soldiers.
The Indian statement came as the Chinese ambassador to India, Sun Weidong, said China hoped India would meet the Chinese side “halfway and avoid taking actions that may complicate the border situation."
“Mutual respect and support is a sure way to meet long-term interests of both countries," Sun was quoted as saying by PTI news agency. He added the onus of setting the current situation right was not on China.
Rising tension between the two neighbours is seen as the worst in decades with a major breakdown in trust.
In his statement, Srivastava set out the context of recent incidents and face-offs along the LAC. “At the heart of the matter is that since early May, the Chinese side has been amassing a large contingent of troops and armaments along LAC," in violation of the 1993 pact.
Since May, China has been hindering India’s normal patrolling in the Galwan Valley area, he said, adding China was trying to change the status quo in the region. India had protested this and senior military commanders of the two countries met on 6 June when they “agreed on a process for de-escalation and disengagement along LAC that involved reciprocal actions".
Both countries had agreed to “respect and abide by the LAC and not undertake any activity to alter the status quo," Srivastava said. China later violated this agreement, which resulted in the 15 June clash, he said. “Thereafter, both sides remain deployed in large numbers in the region, while military and diplomatic contacts are continuing."
“Respecting and strictly observing LAC is the basis for peace and tranquillity in the border areas and explicitly recognized so in the 1993 and subsequent agreements," he said, adding Indian troops are “fully familiar with the alignment of LAC in all sectors of the India-China border areas and abide scrupulously by it." Any construction undertaken by the Indian side has been inside Indian territory and India has never attempted to unilaterally change the status quo, he said in response to repeated charges from China that India has been responsible for tensions and casualties along the border.
With Indian patrol troops subject to obstructions and unilateral attempts to change the status quo along LAC, “the conduct of Chinese forces this year has been in complete disregard of all mutually agreed norms," Srivastava said.
“The deployment of large body of troops and changes in behaviour have also been aggravated by unjustified and untenable claims," he said, pointing to China’s repeated assertions that the whole of the Galwan Valley in Ladakh belonged to it. Indian analysts and commentators have in recent weeks pointed out that since the 1962 India-China war, the Galwan region has been peaceful and Beijing has not exerted any claims over it, until now.
“The maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the border areas is the basis of our bilateral relationship. It is imperative that the established mechanisms are used by both parties to address the current situation," Srivastava said, referring to various measures agreed by the two sides to defuse the tensions, including a meeting of senior foreign ministry officials on Wednesday.