India on Tuesday said the “violent face-off” with Chinese troops in Eastern Ladakh’s Galwan Valley was due to Beijing’s attempt to unilaterally change the status quo in the area. A commanding officer and two soldiers of the Indian Army lost their lives in the incident.

The deceased soldiers have been identified as Colonel B Santosh Babu, Havildar Palani and Sepoy Ojha, India Today reported.

“On the late-evening and night of 15th June, 2020, a violent face-off happened as a result of an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo there,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said. “Both sides suffered casualties that could have been avoided had the agreement at the higher level been scrupulously followed by the Chinese side.”

He added that India and China have been discussing the de-escalation of the situation through military and diplomatic channels. “Given its responsible approach to border management, India is very clear that all its activities are always within the Indian side of the LAC,” Srivastava said. “We expect the same of the Chinese side. We remain firmly convinced of the need for the maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the border areas and the resolution of differences through dialogue. At the same time, we are also strongly committed to ensuring India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The foreign ministry spokesperson also said senior commanders had a productive meeting on June 6 and agreed on a process for de-escalation. “While it was our expectation that this would unfold smoothly, the Chinese side departed from the consensus to respect the Line of Actual Control in the Galwan Valley,” he added.

This is the first instance of casualties on the Line of Actual Control since 1975. The exact nature of the confrontation is not yet known. While the Indian Army said casualties occurred on both sides, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian did not confirm it. Zhao accused India of crossing the border twice and attacking Chinese troops and said that this led to “serious physical clashes”. Senior military officials of both the sides are holding a meeting in Galwan Valley to defuse the tension, the Army said.

Earlier in the day, Opposition leaders urged the Centre to give “a clearer picture” to the nation after the deaths.

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Indo-China tension

The escalation between both India and China came at a time there were efforts were underway to defuse weeks of tension at the border. Tensions between the two countries heightened in May after Chinese troops clashed with the Indian Army at several points along the Line of Actual Control. India and China do not share a defined and demarcated border. Instead, there is the Line of Actual Control, which stretches thousands of kilometres from Ladakh all the way to Arunachal Pradesh.

The dispute between India and China centres around a strategic bridge being built near Daulat Beg Oldi, a military post south of the Karakoram Pass. China has reportedly asked India to stop building infrastructure even on its own side of the LAC. New Delhi, on the other hand, has asked Beijing to maintain the status quo on the border. In recent weeks, India and China have reportedly deployed additional troops along the LAC at North Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh.

Earlier in May, there were reports of China pitching tents near river Galwan, which was also a flashpoint between New Delhi and Beijing during the Sino-Indian war of 1962. Both India and China had deployed additional security forces in the area amid heightened tensions.

Last week, the two countries agreed to peacefully resolve the border-standoff after high-level military talks. The meeting was held at the Border Personnel Meeting Point in Moldo on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control in Eastern Ladakh.