Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Sunday said that India wants an end to the border standoff with China in eastern Ladakh. He, however, asserted that that India’s armed forces are dedicated towards protecting the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and will not allow even an inch of its land to be taken away.

Singh was present at the Sukna War Memorial in Darjeeling, where he performed Shastra Puja, a ceremony of worshipping weapons, on the occasion of Dussehra. He was accompanied by Chief of Army Staff General MM Naravane and several senior Army officers. The defence minister was scheduled to perform the puja at Sherathang, a high-altitude border area near the Line of Actual Control in Sikkim, but could not go there due to inclement weather, PTI reported quoting officials.

Singh’s comments came at a time when India and China are engaged in a standoff for over five months. Both sides held a series of diplomatic and military talks to resolve the row. However, no breakthrough has been achieved to end the standoff.

The Army has significantly bolstered deployment of troops and weaponry along the nearly 3,500-km-long LAC, including in the Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh sectors.

The defence minister also inaugurated the Alternate Alignment Gangtok-Nathula Road via video conferencing from the Sukna-based headquarters of 33 Corps, which guards the de-facto border with China in the Sikkim sector.

Following the inauguration, Singh said that his government has changed the perception of development in border areas. “In the past there was a misconception that building roads in border areas prove to be harmful for the country in adverse situations,” he added. “We have opened up new avenues of development in these regions.”

The border standoff

Military heads of the two countries have engaged in several rounds of talks over the last three months after 20 Indian and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers were killed in violent clashes in Galwan Valley in Ladakh on June 15. However, these talks have failed to break the impasse.

Last week, Beijing had said that it did not recognise Indian sovereignty over Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh, claiming that India had illegally occupied Ladakh. In response, the Ministry of External Affairs said China has no locus standi to comment on the matter. The ministry said Ladakh as well as Arunachal Pradesh are integral parts of India and this has been conveyed to the Chinese side on many occasions.

On September 10, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar met his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Moscow on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit. The two ministers agreed on a five-point plan to defuse tensions between the countries and said the current situation in the border areas of Ladakh was “not in the interest of either side”. They agreed, therefore, that the border troops of both sides should “continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions”.

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