NEW DELHI - Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said Thursday that New Delhi wants a peaceful resolution to its border dispute with China but is prepared for all contingencies to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Calling on Beijing to implement a recent understanding to disengage their troops, Singh said, “We can start a war, but its end is not in our hands.”
A military standoff between the two countries is now in its fifth month with troops from both sides deployed in huge numbers in the high Himalayas in Ladakh, a strategic cold desert region that borders Tibet.
Both sides have put the blame on the other for sparking their most serious face-off in decades and called for a pull back of troops.
Speaking Thursday in the upper house of parliament, Singh said China had violated bilateral agreements by amassing troops and armaments along the Line of Actual Control in the Himalayas that divides their unsettled boundary. He blamed Chinese soldiers for not allowing Indian troops to patrol in traditional areas.
Singh said India made troop deployments to counter those by Beijing and had foiled transgressions by China. According to the Indian minister, Beijing was trying to unilaterally alter the status quo along the ill-defined border. “Respecting and strictly observing Line of Actual Control is the basis for peace and tranquility in the border areas,” he said.
Beijing blames New Delhi for the standoff. “The responsibility for the current situation does not lie with China,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a daily press briefing on Wednesday. He accused India of being the first to violate bilateral agreements, trespassing and firing shots to threaten the safety of the Chinese border troops.
“What is pressing now is that the Indian side should immediately correct its mistake, disengage on the ground as soon as possible and take concrete actions to ease the tension and lower the temperature along the border,” Wang said.
The sharp words come a week after the foreign ministers of the two countries agreed to disengage troops and deescalate tensions at a meeting held in Moscow.
There is no word yet, however, on how the two sides plan to implement that agreement and with the situation along the border still volatile, the Indian military is preparing to keep troops deployed on mountain ridges of more than 4,500 meters through the winter.
Singh said that India has doubled its budget for border roads in recent years in response to Beijing’s rapid infrastructure development on its side.
The roads in the mountains are vital to transport supplies to troops – in recent weeks the Indian army has been ferrying in food, fuel and ammunition into Ladakh ahead of winter when the mountain passes become blocked by snow.
The boundary dispute between India and China has simmered since they fought a war in 1962, but both countries set the decades-old issue aside in recent decades as economic ties blossomed. But with the latest standoff, the dispute has again put a deep strain in their ties.