“I rise today to brief the esteemed Members of this august House about the developments on the Borders of Ladakh over the past few months. As the House is aware, India and China are yet to resolve their boundary question. The Chinese position is that the boundary between the two countries has not been formally delimited, that there exists a traditional customary line formed by the extent of jurisdiction that they claim was exercised historically by each side, and that the two sides have different interpretations of the position of the traditional customary line.
China continues to be in illegal occupation of approximately 38,000 sq kms in the Union Territory of Ladakh. In addition, under the so-called Sino-Pakistan ‘Boundary Agreement’ of 1963, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 sq kms of Indian territory in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to China. China also claims approximately 90,000 sq kms of Indian territory in the Eastern Sector of the India-China boundary in Arunachal Pradesh.
I would like to mention here that as yet there is no commonly delineated Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the border areas between India and China and there is no common perception of the entire LAC. Therefore, in order to ensure peace and tranquility in the border areas, especially along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the two countries have concluded a number of agreements and protocols. Under these agreements, the two sides have agreed to maintain peace and tranquility along the LAC without any effect to their respective positions on the alignment of the LAC as well as on the boundary question.
A key element of both the 1993 and the 1996 Agreements is that the two sides will keep their military forces in the areas along the Line of Actual Control to a minimum level.
Since April 2020, we had noticed a build-up of troops and armaments by the Chinese side in the border areas adjacent to Eastern Ladakh. In early May, the Chinese side had taken action to hinder the normal, traditional patrolling pattern of our troops. In mid-May the Chinese side made several attempts to transgress the LAC in other parts of the Western Sector. This included Kongka La, Gogra and North Bank of Pangong Lake.
We made it clear to the Chinese side both through diplomatic and military channels that China was, by such actions, attempting to unilaterally alter the status quo. It was categorically conveyed that this was unacceptable. The Senior Commanders of the two sides in a meeting on June 6, 2020 agreed on a process of disengagement that involved reciprocal actions. Both sides also agreed to respect and abide by the LAC and not undertake any activity to alter the status quo. However in violation of this the Chinese side created a violent face off on June 15th at Galwan. Our brave soldiers laid down their lives and also inflicted costs including casualties on the Chinese side.
While no one should doubt our determination to safeguard our borders, India believes that mutual respect and mutual sensitivity are the basis for peaceful relations with neighbours. As we want to resolve the current situation through dialogue, we have maintained diplomatic and military engagement with the Chinese side. In these discussions, we have maintained the three key principles that, determine our approach: (i) both sides should strictly respect and observe the LAC; (ii) neither side should attempt to alter the status quo unilaterally; and (iii) all agreements and understandings between the two sides much be fully abided by in their entirety.
As of now, the Chinese side has mobilised a large number of troops and armaments along the LAC as well as in the depth areas. There are several friction areas in Eastern Ladakh including Gogra, Kongka La and North and South Banks of the Pangong Lake. In response to China’s actions, our armed forces have also made appropriate counter deployments in these areas to ensure that India’s borders are fully protected. This is still an ongoing situation and obviously involves sensitive operational issues. This rapid deployment by our armed forces including ITBP has taken place in a challenging time of COVID-19. It has also been made possible by the high importance that the Government has placed for developing border infrastructure in the last few years. The House is aware that over the last many decades, China had undertaken significant infrastructure construction activity that enhanced their deployment capabilities in the border areas. However, in response, our Government too has stepped up the budget for border infrastructure development to about double the previous levels. As a result, more roads and bridges have been completed in the border areas. This has not only provided much needed connectivity to the local population, but has also provided better logistical support for our armed forces, enabling them to be more alert in the border areas and respond more effectively where required. In the coming years too, the Government remains committed to this objective. We will not back down from taking any big and tough step in the interest of our country.
I would like to emphasise, that India remains committed to resolving the current issues in our border areas through peaceful dialogue and consultations. It was in pursuit of this objective that I met my Chinese counterpart on September 4, 2020 in Moscow and had a detailed discussion regarding the current situation with him. I conveyed in clear terms our concerns related to the actions of the Chinese side, including amassing of large number of troops, their aggressive behaviour and attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo that were in violation of the bilateral agreements. I also made it clear that even as we wanted to peacefully resolve the issue and would like the Chinese side to work with us, there should also be no doubt about our determination to protect India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. My colleague, S. Jaishankar, the External Affairs Minister, has thereafter met the Chinese Foreign Minister in Moscow on September 10, 2020. The two have reached an agreement, which, if implemented sincerely and faithfully by the Chinese side, could lead to complete disengagement and restoration of peace and tranquility in the border areas.
In the past too we have had situations of prolonged stand-offs in our border areas with China which have been resolved peacefully. Even though the situation this year is very different both in terms of scale of troops involved and the number of friction points, we do remain committed to the peaceful resolution of the current situation. I want to assure 130 crore people of our country that we will not let the country down. This is our firm resolve towards our nation.
I want to assure the people of our country that the morale and motivation of our Armed Forces is very high, and our soldiers are committed to overcome any challenge that may come in their way. This time also, our soldiers have chosen patience and courage over aggression. Our soldiers are a living symbol of restraint, bravery and valor. Special warm clothes, special tent for their living and adequate arrangement of all their weapons and ammunition have been made for them suitable to the extreme weather conditions. The spirits of our soldiers are high. They are capable of serving at forbidding altitudes with scarce oxygen and in extremely cold temperatures, something that they have effortlessly done over the last many years on Siachen, and Kargil.
It is true that we are facing a challenge in Ladakh, but I am confident that our country and our brave soldiers will be able to surmount every challenge. I urge this House of the Parliament to unanimously honour the courage and valour of our Armed Forces. A message of unity and complete confidence of our brave soldiers will resonate not only across the country but also across the world and shall infuse a new confidence, new energy and unlimited enthusiasm in our forces.
Note: These are excerpts from the statement made by the Raksha Mantri to Lok Sabha on September 15 and to Rajya Sabha on September 17, 2020.