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SOURCE: THE PRINT

India has made it clear to China that its soldiers will open fire to defend themselves, and Chinese tactics of “using mass” — or seeking to outnumber Indian soldiers, like in the 15 June Galwan Valley clash — will not be tolerated, top government sources said.

With no signs of disengagement on the ground in Ladakh, where India and China have been locked in a stand-off since April, both sides will stay dug in during the region’s bitter winter too, the sources added. The Chinese, they added, have deployed around 50,000 soldiers and equipment, including missile systems, tanks and artillery, at the border.

The sources’ comments come as the ground situation in Ladakh remains the same despite the Chinese seemingly adopting a reconciliatory approach during different levels of dialogue. They suggest that India has changed its rules of engagement for the Line of Actual Control (LAC), where firing of shots was thus far barred under a bilateral agreement, since the 15 June Galwan Valley clash.

The clash had resulted in the death of 20 Indian soldiers, including a commanding officer, and many Chinese troops.

“We have told our soldiers that they can open fire if there is a fear of their own safety. They can fire for self-defence,” a source said, adding that China has been told the same.

According to the sources, there is no question of believing Chinese words of peace unless their deeds on the ground match up. The sources also said China has given them a number for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers killed in the Galwan Valley clash — a number Beijing has yet to publicly acknowledge.

The Chinese, sources said, have told the Indian side that five of their soldiers, including a commanding officer, had died in the clash. “If the Chinese are saying five, we can easily double it if not triple it,” a top South Block officer said.

Chinese soldiers far outnumbered Indian troops during the Galwan Valley clash, which took place after a disengagement effort went awry.

“The Chinese tactic was to come in large numbers with clubs and crude weapons and surround Indians, who followed the laid-down protocols and moved in a much lesser manner,” one of the sources quoted above said.

“According to the agreement, both sides are supposed to have a 15-20-member-strong patrol team. Over the last few years (since Doklam), the Chinese started increasing numbers,” the source added..

Sources said since the intervening night of 29-30 August, when Indian soldiers moved in to capture several heights near the southern bank of the Pangong Tso, there has been a number of occasions when shots were fired in the air.

‘Both sides preparing for winter deployment’
Both sides, sources said, are likely to stay deployed in the forward areas of Ladakh through the winter, with China insisting on disengaging from the southern bank of the Pangong Tso first while India has been clear that it has to happen in in all areas simultaneously.

“India is also of the opinion that since it was the Chinese who initiated the aggression, they should be the first one to start disengaging,” a source added.

The sources admitted that while India has been seeking complete disengagement and status quo ante (return to positions before the stand-off began, following Chinese incursions in April), the current positions will continue to be held for some time, as reported by ThePrint earlier this week.

“I can’t put a time-frame on when the disengagement will happen. The position stays as it is,” one of the above-mentioned sources said.

‘Depsang issue predates current tensions’
Talking about Depsang Plains, one of the flashpoints in Ladakh, the sources said the issue there predates the current tensions between India and China. Without getting into a timeline, the sources said there are no Chinese soldiers camping at the Bottleneck, also known as Y-Junction.

“We go by foot beyond Bottleneck as vehicles cannot cross that area. The Chinese observe our movement and they have deployed two vehicles that come and block our path well before Patrol Point 10. But we have been reaching our patrolling points using other routes,” a source said.

“But since the tensions began, we have avoided pushing ahead so as not to create fresh escalation,” the source added, saying both sides have built up in depth areas.