Modi Breaks Silence on China Border Clash, Says India 'Wants Peace'

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that the deaths of the troops killed in a border clash with Chinese soldiers on Monday "will not be in vain."

In his first public comments since the deadly confrontation, Modi said India was ready to respond to instigation along the disputed frontier where Indian soldiers died in hand-to-hand fighting with Chinese troops earlier this week.

"I would like to assure the nation that the sacrifice of our jawans will not be in vain," Modi said, using an Indian term for soldiers. "For us, the unity and sovereignty of the country is the most important. India wants peace but it is capable to give a befitting reply if instigated," he continued, according to the Asian News International agency.

At least 20 Indian soldiers were killed in the confrontation in the Galwan Valley in the northern state of Ladakh, a remote mountainous region that forms part of the disputed 2,520-mile border between India and China.

Clashes have broken out since April when Chinese troops entered disputed areas along the Line of Actual Control, a loose demarcation line accepted after a 1962 border war between the two nations.

Thousands of Chinese soldiers are believed to have been deployed, seemingly to frustrate planned Indian construction projects—including roads and airfields—that would improve its supply capabilities and military preparedness along the remote frontier. India has responded by sending additional troops to the disputed border regions.

The Indian army said that Chinese soldiers were among the dead, but Beijing has not confirmed any casualties. The editor of the nationalist state-run Global Times newspaper said Chinese soldiers had died in the fighting.

Indian sources in New Delhi told The Guardian that most of those who died—including an Indian officer—were pushed or fell from the mountain terrain.

Troops in the area are traditionally not armed to avoid escalation, so the fighting was conducted with fists, stones and other makeshift weapons. The clash occurred in near-total darkness overnight and involved as many as 600 soldiers, The Guardian reported.

Modi had come under fire domestically for remaining silent on the confrontation. Rahul Gandhi, the former president of Indian Congress Party—the main opponent of Modi's nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party—and a member of the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, said Tuesday that the prime minister was in "hiding."

"Why is the PM silent? Why is he hiding?" Gandhi asked. "Enough is enough. We need to know what has happened. How dare China kill our soldiers? How dare they take our land?"

At a daily press briefing on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters that Indian forces were to blame for the violence. "The Indian side severely violated our consensus and twice crossed the border line and provoked and attacked the Chinese forces," he said.

India, China, Narendra Modi, border, war, peace
Indian Border Security Force soldiers guard a highway leading towards Leh, bordering China, in Gagangir, India on June 17, 2020. TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP via Getty Images/Getty