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Indian PM Narendra Modi breaks silence after deadly border skirmish with China

China said earlier that it was in “close communication” with India via diplomatic and military channels, according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian. Zhao reiterated that the situation between the two neighbors is “stable” and “controllable.” While Indian PM Modi has promised to pursue a diplomatic solution, he said that India can “reply suitably” if provoked by the Chinese.

After maintaining a disquieting silence for more than 24 hours, Indian PM Narendra Modi delivered his first statement since the deadly border clash between Indian and Chinese forces that left 20 Indian soldiers dead.

During a televised address to the nation, Modi insisted India wouldn’t allow the sacrifice made by its soldiers to be made in vain. India will protect its territory and integrity, before adding that India is “culturally a peaceful nation and has cooperated with neighboring countries: Modi wants to ensure the country that India’s integrity and sovereignty are top priorities for us, and nobody can stop India from protecting it.

India will protect the country’s land and its integrity, Modi promised, though a diplomatic solution will be sought to prevent further violence – though India reserves the right to retaliate if provoked.

The opposition Congress Party, led by Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi political family, has repeatedly slammed the prime minister over his silence, and posited it as part of a pattern of weakness shown during previous border spats (which seem to be happening more and more under Modi’s Hindu Nationalist government).

The party has demanded more answers from Modi, including a more complete explanation of what caused the skirmish.

A surge in patriotism followed Modi’s address, though even beforehand, the hashtag #westandwithindianarmy has gone viral in India.

The meeting, which was apparently focused on the coronavirus outbreak, involved Modi and the chief ministers of 15 Indian states and territories, and featured a 2-minute moment of silence to honor the 20 Indian soldiers killed during yesterday’s border skirmish.

“The whole country is with the families of those who sacrificed their lives for the country. India will defend every stone, every inch of its territory. India is a peace-loving country which has always tried to maintain cooperative and friendly relations with neighbors,” the prime minister said.

The troops were reportedly “exposed to sub-zero temperatures in the high-altitude terrain” and succumbed to their wounds. Indian media claimed as many as 43 Chinese People’s Liberation Army soldiers were killed, but this figure has not been confirmed by Beijing.

Modi has called an all-party meeting on Friday at 5pm to discuss the Galwan Valley situation.

Shortly after Modi’s comments the Chinese foreign ministry said that it has agreed with India to de-escalate the situation as soon as possible.

The ministry said in a statement that senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi told Indian Foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on Wednesday that India should severely punish those responsible for the conflict and control its frontline troops.

Meanwhile, China’s state media reported early Wednesday about a People’s Liberation Army live-fire drill in Tibet as tensions with India escalated following a deadly clash on the disputed Himalayan border. It appears the exercises were held after the deadly clash.

Citing Chinese state media, the SCMP reported that the drill simulated removing the enemy’s fortified positions using a joint operation with a brigade (around 7,000 soldiers) of soldiers on the 4,700m-high plateau. The exercises involved tanks, artillery, missiles and electronic communications equipment.

The report followed the lethal battle in the Galwan Valley on Monday between Indian-controlled Ladakh and Chinese controlled Aksai Chin. Though, as we reported back in May, border tensions between the two nuclear-armed regional superpowers have been escalating in recent weeks, culminating in the skirmish.

Header: A protest against China, in Mumbai, India on Wednesday. © REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas