NEW DELHI – India said Thursday it was using diplomatic channels with China to de-escalate a military standoff in a remote Himalayan border region where 20 Indian soldiers were killed this week.
Responding to China's claim to the disputed Galwan Valley, India's External Affairs Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said both sides agreed to handle the situation responsibly.
"Making exaggerated and untenable claims is contrary to this understanding,” he said in a statement.
Monday’s clash that killed 20 Indian troops was the deadliest between the sides in 45 years. China has not said whether it suffered any casualties.
Indian news reports said Thursday that 76 Indian soldiers were hospitalized with injuries following the clash. All are in stable condition,according to New Delhi Television.
The Indian Army did not issue a statement about the injured soldiers and Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Aman Anand did not immediately respond to a text message seeking comments. Indian officials have denied reports that any of its troops were in Chinese custody.
India and China have accused each other of instigating the clash in the valley, which is part of the disputed Ladakh region along the Himalayan frontier.
The deaths happened in the thin air at 4,270 meters (14,000 feet) above sea level, when soldiers brawled with clubs, rocks and their fists with no shots fired, Indian officials have said. The soldiers carry firearms but are not allowed to use them under a previous agreement in the border standoff dispute.
Defense analyst Ajai Shukla tweeted a photo of rods studded with nails that were purportedly used by Chinese troops.
China maintained that Indian troops had deliberately provoked the clash, though it also signaled it wanted talks, noting the importance of their broader bilateral relationship.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, citing Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in a call with his Indian counterpart, said that “mutual respect and support serves our long-term interests."
“After the incident, China and India communicated and coordinated through military and diplomatic channels,” Zhao said. “The two sides agreed to deal fairly with the serious events caused by the conflict in the Galwan Valley, and ... cool down the situation as soon as possible.”
But emotions were high in the south Indian city of Hyderabad, where thousands watched the funeral procession of Indian Col. Santosh Babu. He was among the 20 Indian troops who officials said died of injuries and exposure after the clash in the area’s subfreezing temperatures.
In the Indian Himalayan city of McLeod Ganj, the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile, demonstrators shouted anti-China slogans and burned the Chinese flag.
An Indian confederation of small and midsize companies called for a boycott of 500 Chinese goods, including toys and textiles, to express “strong criticism” of China's alleged aggression in Ladakh.
The boycott call followed protests Wednesday in New Delhi where demonstrators destroyed items they said were made in China while chanting, “China get out.”
The Himalayan clash has fanned growing anti-Chinese sentiments due to the coronavirus. India has confirmed more than 366,000 virus cases and 12,200 deaths.
But a broader boycott could backfire for India if China chose to retaliate by banning exports of raw materials used by India's pharmaceutical industry.
Indian opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi demanded answers from the army after asking: “Why were our soldiers sent unarmed to martyrdom?”
India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar responded that the Indian soldiers were carrying firearms but that troops from both sides cannot use them because of 1996 and 2005 agreements between the two countries
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 programs and in social media.
The action has taken place along a remote stretch of the 3,380-kilometer (2,100-mile) “Line of Actual Control" — the border established following a war between India and China in 1962 that resulted in an uneasy truce.
Wang, China's foreign minister, warned New Delhi not to underestimate Beijing's determination to safeguard what it considers sovereign territory. His comments came in a phone call Wednesday with Jaishankar.
Wang said China demanded that India conduct a thorough investigation and “harshly punish” those responsible.
Jaishankar, in turn, accused China of erecting a structure in the Galwan Valley, which he called a “premeditated and planned action that was directly responsible for the resulting violence and casualties," according to a statement.
He added that the incident would have “serious repercussions” on India's relationship with China, while adding that both sides were committed to further disengaging in the remote Himalayan plateau.
Experts have said the two nations were unlikely to head to war, but that easing tensions quickly will be difficult.
China claims about 90,000 square kilometers (35,000 square miles) of territory in India’s northeast, while India says China occupies 38,000 square kilometers (15,000 square miles) 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 handful of countries to condemn the move, raising it at international forums, including the U.N. Security Council.
India on Thursday was elected to a non-permanent seat on the Security Council.