In a telling move that would not have gone unnoticed in Beijing, Modi’s withering assessment of Chinese ambitions came as foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla briefed the ambassadors of the US, France, Germany, Japan and Russia on China’s violations of the Line of Actual Control, LAC, in Ladakh.
“The age of expansionism is over, this is the age of development. History knows that expansionist forces have either lost or were forced to turn back," Modi told Army, Air Force and Indo-Tibetan Border Police personnel in Leh, the capital of Ladakh.
Though Modi did not mention China by name, there was little doubt about his intended target, given China’s moves to claim territorial waters in the South China Sea and East China Sea besides engaging India in military standoffs.
In his speech, Modi said India was committed to peace and friendship but that this commitment should not be seen as a sign of weakness. “The weak can never accomplish peace, the brave do," he said. “After every attack, India has made a strong comeback."
India believes in peace and friendship, he said, but, “We also know that the weak cannot accomplish peace, the brave do."
Modi, during the visit to Leh, also the headquarters of the Army’s 14 Corps, paid rich tributes to the soldiers slain in the brutal 15 June clash in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley, saying India’s enemies had seen the “fire and fury" with which its armed forces responded to challenges.
“Your courage is higher than the heights where you are serving today," Modi said in reference to the desolate and inhospitable mountain terrain that the Line of Actual Control cuts through.
The remarks came amid further signs that world opinion was crystallizing against China, with Japan firing a salvo.
“Had a good talk with FS Shringla. Appreciated his briefing on the situation along LAC, including GoI’s policy to pursue peaceful resolution. Japan also hopes for peaceful resolution through dialogues. Japan opposes any unilateral attempts to change the status quo," Satoshi Suzuki, Japanese ambassador to India, said in a Twitter post after a conversation with Shringla.
US President Donald Trump was cited by a White House spokesperson on Thursday as saying that “China’s aggressive stance along India-China border fits with a larger pattern of Chinese aggression in other parts of the world."
Responding to Modi’s speech, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said: “India should avoid a strategic miscalculation with regard to China," during a briefing earlier in the day in Beijing.
Ji Rong, a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in New Delhi in a Twitter post, said, “It’s groundless to view China as ‘expansionist’, exaggerate and fabricate its disputes with neighbours."
Later in the day, Modi visited soldiers injured in the 15 June clash in hospital before concluding his visit to Leh. “You gave them a fitting response," he said.
On his arrival in New Delhi, Modi headed straight into a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security that was attended by the ministers of home, defence, external affairs and others.
Tensions spiked in May between India and China, who share a 3,488km-long border that has not been formally demarcated since the 1962 war.
India says China has been obstructing its patrols along the border, is squatting in its territory and has raised the levels of friction by amassing thousands of troops, artillery, heavy vehicles and air support, charges Beijing denies.
Many rounds of talks at the military and diplomatic levels on de-escalation and disengagement have not yielded any results on the ground as yet.