NEW DELHI/BEIJING (Reuters) – India and China on Saturday traded accusations that the other had violated their shared de facto border, an area that this week became the site of their deadliest clash in half a century.
Fighting on the two countries’ Himalayan frontier on Monday killed at least 20 Indian soldiers and injured more than 70. China has not released any casualty figures for its troops.
While Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to downplay the clash on Friday, his government a day later blamed China for seeking to erect structures “just across the Line of Actual Control”, as the demarcation is known, and refusing India’s request to stop.
India will not allow any unilateral changes to the disputed border, it said in a statement.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian accused Indian troops of a “deliberate provocation” in the tense Himalayan area.
In a series of tweets, Zhao said the Galwan Valley was on the Chinese side of the line and that Indians had since April unilaterally built roads, bridges and other facilities in the region.
The Indian troops “crossed the Line of Actual Control” and attacked Chinese officers and soldiers who were there for negotiation, triggering “fierce physical conflicts”, Zhao said.
India’s foreign ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava denied any violation of the Line of Actual Control by India, and said the claims by the Chinese side were “not acceptable”.
“We do not accept the contention that India was unilaterally changing the status quo. On the contrary, we were maintaining it,” Srivastava said.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticised China for escalating border tensions with India.
“The PLA (China’s People’s Liberation Army) has escalated border tensions – we see it today in India… and we watch as it militarizes the South China Sea and illegally claims more territory there,” Pompeo said in at the virtual Copenhagen Democracy Summit.
Troops remain locked in a face-off at several locations along the poorly defined Line of Actual Control, despite talks between local commanders to de-escalate.
Modi on Friday appeared to downplay the clash with Chinese troops, saying: “Nobody has intruded into our border, neither is anybody there now, nor have our posts been captured.”
(Reporting by Aftab Ahmed in New Delhi and Tom Daly in Beijing; Editing by William Mallard and Jan Harvey)