A day after Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters that Beijing and New Delhi had reached an agreement to deescalate the worst border conflict between the two countries in decades, China has gone on the offensive, pinning the blame for the rise in hostilities entirely on India.
The reason for the sharper tone, said Mr Zhao yesterday, is that China has had enough of India’s diplomats and media churning out large amounts of untruths.
In a lengthy statement after a regular press briefing, he accused India of building roads and bridges in the Galwan Valley since April, thus “unilaterally changing the local status quo”, and then reneging on an agreement reached during the first round of talks on June 6.
In that negotiation, India had promised not to patrol and construct facilities at the mouth of the Galwan River, and both countries agreed to establish observation posts on both sides of the estuary, said Mr Zhao.
“But afterwards, India regretted the consensus reached and unreasonably demanded that China dismantle the observation post that was set up,” he said.
Things came to a head on June 15, when Indian border troops crossed into Chinese territory and dismantled tents erected by the Chinese.
“When the Chinese border guards negotiated in accordance with the practice of handling border incidents, the Indian army suddenly and violently attacked Chinese officers and soldiers heading for negotiations and that led to fierce physical confrontation between the two sides, resulting in deaths,” said Mr Zhao, adding that the statement made was to “tell the world the truth”.
At a monthly news conference by the Defence Ministry yesterday, spokesman Wu Qian gave a similar account of the events, saying the June 15 incident “was entirely caused by India’s breach of consensus and unilateral provocation”.
But China still hopes the two countries can resolve the conflict through dialogue to keep peace along the border, he said.
“After the conflict, both China and India quickly switched modes to crisis management,” said Professor Sun Xingjie of the Jilin University School of Public Diplomacy.
Both sides have stuck to a 1996 no-gun agreement, which is critical in keeping order along the border, he said.
“I personally prefer to think that this time, the soldiers on both fronts may have made some error in judgment or there could have been some misunderstanding that led to this accidental incident,” said Prof Sun.
“I think both sides are willing to calm the border situation down as soon as possible.”
Beijing will want to see this conflict resolved amicably. It already has plenty of territorial issues to deal with, from Hong Kong to Taiwan to the South China Sea, and diplomatic rows with the United States, Canada and Australia.
Things came to a head on June 15, when Indian border troops crossed into Chinese territory and dismantled tents erected by the Chinese. “When the Chinese border guards negotiated in accordance with the practice of handling border incidents, the Indian army suddenly and violently attacked Chinese officers and soldiers heading for negotiations and that led to fierce physical confrontation between the two sides, resulting in deaths,” said Mr Zhao Lijian, adding that the statement made was to “tell the world the truth”.
For the Chinese, the prospect of souring ties with a major power like India – and undoing the closer bilateral relationship it has been cultivating – over a remote, inhospitable border is also not prudent.
Compared with India’s handling of the situation, which “at times seems chaotic and lacking an informed plan”, China has responded in a calmer, if secretive, manner, said Mr Yang Zi, a senior analyst at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies who specialises in Chinese military affairs.
The Chinese authorities have refused to divulge how many casualties they suffered, saying such tit for tat does not help the situation.
“The Chinese government has issued carefully crafted statements. The Chinese media works closely with the government in order to not stoke the fire, and nationalist sentiments have been under control in China,” said Mr Yang. “Since the Chinese government said very little, any statement it releases naturally comes with more weight.”