NEW DELHI: India seems to be changing the rules of engagement in its ongoing tensions with China with the Indian army pushing back against Chinese moves to open a new front along their border in Ladakh as well strengthening its position along strategic heights in the area.

The new moves, described as defensive by the Indian Army but seen as provocative by the Chinese side, “increases chances of conflict between the two countries,” said Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of Chinese Studies at the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University. This was also because the Indian Army seemed to have taken up positions along dominating peaks on the Indian side of the LAC but not very far from the Chinese posts, heightening the chances of a localized conflict, Kondapalli said.

On Tuesday, brigade commanders of the Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army met in Chushul on the Indian side of the LAC to defuse tensions that had cropped up after Chinese troops attempted to intrude into Indian territory on the south bank of the Pangong Tso lake in Ladakh. In New Delhi, the spike in tensions – seen as the most serious incident after a violent clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers at Galwan valley on 15 June – was discussed at a meeting attended by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Chief of Defence Staff, Bipin Rawat, besides the three service chiefs.

According to Indian army officials, the southern bank of Pangong Tso has always been controlled by the Indian side with a major presence of Indian troops, unlike the Finger area on the north bank – arousing suspicion that China was attempting to open a new front in the ongoing tensions with the aim of changing the status quo on the ground.

India used to claim up to Finger 4 – one of eight mountain spurs jutting into the Pangong Tso lake along the northern border — but patrol up to Finger 8 while China used to hold position till Finger 8 and patrol upto Finger 4. Chinese troops are also refusing to move from the positions it had come up to at Patrolling Point 17A. It is also ensconced in the heights of Finger 4 and refusing to move out.

Tensions have been running high since India first detected intrusions by Chinese troops into its territory in early May. They were exacerbated by a violent clash between soldiers of the two sides on 15 June at Galwan valley in which 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers were killed. On Tuesday, the Chinese embassy in New Delhi, accused India of violating a consensus reached in previous military and diplomatic talks between the two countries and trespassing across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) border. Chinese Embassy spokeswoman Ji Rong said Indian troops “illegally trespassed the Line of Actual Control again at the southern bank of the Pangong Tso Lake and near the Reqin Pass in the western sector of China-India border, and conducted flagrant provocations, which again stirred tension in the border areas.”

“India’s move has grossly violated China’s territorial sovereignty,” she said adding that the moves had “severely damaged peace and tranquility along the China-India border areas.”

“What India has done runs counter to the efforts made by both sides for a period of time to ease and cool down the situation on the ground, and China is resolutely opposed to this,” Ji said.

“China has made solemn representations to the Indian side, urged the Indian side to strictly control and restrain its frontline troops, earnestly honor its commitments, immediately stop all the provocative actions, immediately withdraw its troops illegally trespassing the Line of Actual Control, immediately stop any actions leading to the escalation and complication of the situation,” she added.

In Beijing, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China had never “provoked any war or conflict and never occupied an inch of other country’s territory. Chinese troops never crossed the line” – putting the blame squarely on India for the spike in tensions.

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