India and China, on Monday evening, engaged in their first deadly conflict in at least 45 years, resulting in 20 deaths on the Indian side, including that of a commanding officer, and possibly 43 casualties including injuries on the Chinese side, pushing the bilateral relationship between the two nuclear powers to an all-time low. From the past month, India and China are facing each other with some type of cold war on Line of Actual Control (LAC).
In the days leading up to the most violent border clash between India and China in decades, China brought in pieces of machinery, cut a trail into a Himalayan mountainside, and may have even dammed a river, satellite pictures suggest.
The images were, shot on Tuesday a day prior to the hand to hand combat between the soldiers from each side in the freezing Galwan Valley, show an increase in activity from a week earlier.
India said there were twenty casualties in a premeditated attack by the Chinese troops on Monday night at a time when top commanders had agreed to defuse tensions on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) or disputed and poorly and defined border between the nuclear-armed neighbors.
China rejected the allegations and blamed the frontline Indian Soldiers for provoking the conflict which took place at the freezing height of 14,000 feet (4,300 meters) in the western Himalayas. The 4,056-km border between India and China runs through glaciers, snow deserts, and rivers in the west to thickly forested mountains in the east.
The Galwan Valley is an arid, inhospitable area, where some soldiers are deployed on steep ridges. It is considered important because it leads to the Aksai Chin, a disputed plateau claimed by India but controlled by China
Reuters obtained images of the altercation the landscape valley;
The satellite pictures, taken by Earth-imaging company Planet Labs and obtained by Reuters, show signs of altering the landscape of the valley 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.
Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at Californias Middlebury Institute of International Studies said; “Looking at it in Planet, it looks like China is constructing roads in the valley and possibly damming the river. 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.”
What will be the repercussion?
After almost 45 years later this clash was the most serious. since early May, soldiers have faced off on the border where India says Chinese troops had intruded and set up temporary structures. The confrontations turned into a deadly brawl on Monday.
The fighting was triggered by a row over two Chinese tents and observation towers that India said had been built on its side of the LAC, Indian government sources in New Delhi, and on the Indian side of the border in the Ladakh region said.
China had sought to erect a “structure” in the Galwan Valley on India’s side of the LAC even after military officials had reached an agreement on June 6 to de-escalate, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told China’s senior diplomat, Wang Yi, in a phone call on Wednesday, the Indian Foreign Ministry said. It was not immediately clear to what structure he was referring to.
The problem arose when an Indian patrol visited the area near a ridge to verify a Chinese assertion that its troops had moved back from the LAC, the two government sources aware of the military situation said. The Chinese troops had thinned out and left behind the two tents and small observation posts. The Indian party demolished the towers and burnt the tents, the sources said.
The satellite images show possible debris from the observation posts on Tuesday morning on a ridge on India’s side of the LAC. There was no such structure in the image taken a week earlier.
‘Light ammunition from Indian side’
India and China have not exchanged gunfire at the border since 1967, despite occasional flare-ups. Soldiers are under instructions to keep their rifles slung at their backs. One of the Sources said that ‘It was not clear what happened next, but the two sides soon clashed, with the Chinese using iron rods and batons with barbed wire.”
A large group of Chinese soldiers arrived and confronted the Indian troops, led by the colonel Santosh Babu, they were lightly armed in line with rules of engagement at LAC, one of the sources said. Colonel Babu was one of the 20 victims, they said. More Indian troops were rushed in the confrontations turned into an hours-long brawl eventually involving up to 900 soldiers, the soldiers said, still no shots were fired on either side.