Outrage as PM Narendra Modi downplays clash with Chinese troops in disputed Kashmir's Galwan Valley region that left 20 Indian soldiers dead, saying there had been no intrusion despite satellite pictures showing landscape change by Beijing.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday denied assertions that any Indian territory had been lost to China, saying India's borders were secure and the military was capable of defending them after 20 Indian soldiers were killed this week in a frontier clash with Chinese troops.
"Nobody has entered our borders or captured our posts," Modi said in a televised statement at the end of an all-party meeting called by his government to discuss the clash in the east of India-administered Kashmir's Galwan Valley.
Modi said India would continue to develop its border infrastructure rapidly, and would not bow down to external pressure.
Modi praised the sacrifice of the soldiers killed, saying they "taught a lesson to those who had dared to look towards our motherland."
Did I see prime minister @narendramodi redrawing the Sino-Indian border on TV today? Modi said nobody entered Indian territory. Has he conceded to China the Galwan River valley and Fingers 4-8 in Pangong Tso -- both on our side of the LAC -- and where Chinese troops now sit. 1/4.— Ajai Shukla (@ajaishukla) June 19, 2020
Opposition Congress seeks answers
Sonia Gandhi, the main opposition Congress party chief, had earlier questioned whether intelligence failures had allowed China to build up forces in the area and she called for tough government action in getting China to leave Indian territory.
"We are still in the dark about many crucial aspects of the crisis," she said.
India and China accuse each other of instigating Monday’s fight in the Galwan Valley, part of the disputed Kashmir's Ladakh region along the Himalayan frontier.
China has not said whether it suffered any casualties in what was the deadliest conflict between the sides in 45 years.
"Does the government not receive, on a regular basis, satellite pictures of the borders of our country? Did our external intelligence agencies not report any unusual activity along the LAC?" asked Gandhi.
Modi will have to walk back his statement claiming no Chinese intrusion on Indian territory. Let’s just hope the clarification is less clumsy than the original statement. #IndiaChinaFaceOff pic.twitter.com/ZM5i6pSrzI— Sadanand Dhume (@dhume) June 19, 2020
Will tensions ease?
Both countries said they were communicating through military and diplomatic channels and stressed the importance of their broader relationship.
Experts say the two nations are unlikely to head to war, but easing tensions quickly will be difficult.
China on Friday maintained its position that India is to blame for the clash.
"The right and wrong is very clear and the responsibility lies entirely with the Indian side," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said.
Both India and China have denied media reports that Indian soldiers were in Chinese custody.
Series of clashes
During Monday's clash soldiers brawled with clubs, rocks, and their fists in the thin air at 4,270 metres above sea level, but no shots were fired, Indian officials have said.
The soldiers carry firearms but are not allowed to use them under a previous agreement in the border dispute.
Indian security officials have said the fatalities were caused by severe injuries and exposure to subfreezing temperatures.
The clash escalated a standoff that began in early May, when Indian officials said Chinese soldiers crossed the border in three places, erecting tents and guard posts and ignoring warnings to leave.
That triggered shouting matches, stone-throwing, and fistfights between the opposing sides, much of it replayed on TV news programmes and in social media.
The action has taken place along a remote stretch of the 3,380-km Line of Actual Control or LAC — the undefined demarcation line established following a war between India and China in 1962 that resulted in an uneasy truce after India's loss.
The rules of engagement along the LAC — which prohibit using live ammunition but also ban physical contact between soldiers — will have to be renegotiated, defence analyst Rahul Bedi said.
"There is a lot of pressure on the Indian side, the emotions are high among the public," Bedi said.
"It remains to be seen whether India will sit down at the negotiating table with China and say it will like to change these agreements to make them a little more aggressive or offensive in nature," he said.
In Friday's meeting with Modi, Gandhi said the "entire country" would like assurances that China will move its forces back to the LAC. Other opposition leaders echoed her call.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said there was no intelligence failure on the part of the army.
Listen to the Chinese analyst Victor Gao on China-India border standoff in #Ladakh— Kashmir women corporate (@12kwc) June 19, 2020
He is arguing that if India doesn’t follow what China is saying, war may break out and China might send its troops to Kashmir https://t.co/umH3tXCZKP
Calls for boycott of Chinese goods
The clash has fanned growing anti-Chinese sentiments in India, which were already high because of the coronavirus pandemic, which began in China late last year.
India's caseload has climbed to the fourth-highest in the world.
An Indian business confederation called for a boycott of 500 Chinese goods, including toys and textiles, to express "strong criticism" of China's action in Ladakh.
G Parthasarthy, a retired Indian diplomat, said that both China and Pakistan — India's archrival — were aiming at low-cost containment of India. "China has a hangup against India and its civilisation.
"For us to expect China will be a friendly neighbour ... It will never be a friendly relationship."
Did China alter landscape?
Meanwhile, the satellite pictures, taken by Earth-imaging company Planet Labs and obtained by Reuters news agency, show signs the landscape of the valley has been altered through widening tracks, moving earth and making river crossings, one expert said.
The images show machinery along the bald mountains and in the Galwan River.
"Looking at it in Planet, it looks like China is constructing roads in the valley and possibly damming the river," Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at California’s Middlebury Institute of International Studies.
"There are a ton of vehicles on both sides (of the LAC), although there appear to be vastly more on the Chinese side. I count 30-40 Indian vehicles and well over 100 vehicles on the Chinese side."
Deeply grateful for the overwhelming support shown by the global community for India's membership of the @UN Security Council. India will work with all member countries to promote global peace, security, resilience and equity.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) June 18, 2020
China claims about 90,000 sq km of territory in India's northeast, while India says China occupies 38,000 sq km of its territory in the Aksai Chin Plateau in the Himalayas, a contiguous part of the Ladakh region.
India unilaterally declared Ladakh a federal territory while separating it from disputed Kashmir in August 2019.
China was among the countries to condemn the move, raising it at forums including the UN Security Council. India was elected to the council this week.