Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Wednesday New Delhi wants peace with Beijing following a face-off between two countries’ military in disputed Jammu and Kashmir that killed at least 20 Indian soldiers earlier this week. 

“India wants peace but it is capable to give a befitting reply if instigated, be it any kind of situation,” said Modi in a video-conference with Home Minister Amit Shah and chief ministers of 15 states, including Delhi, and union territories.

In his opening remarks, Modi mourned 20 Indian soldiers who lost their lives in a violent faceoff between the two countries on Monday night, including a colonel.

“I would like to assure the nation that the sacrifice of our jawans [junior soldiers] will not be in vain. For us, the unity and sovereignty of the country is the most important. The whole country is with the families of those who sacrificed their lives for the country,” said Modi.

India does not antagonize anyone but also does not compromise sovereignty, he added.

Earlier in the day, Rahul Gandhi, the main opposition Indian National Congress party leader, asked Modi about the government strategy. 

“Why is the PM silent? Why is he hiding? Enough is enough. We need to know what has happened. How dare China kill our soldiers? How dare they take our land?” tweeted Gandhi.

Weeks of tension

The massive escalation on Monday occurred after weeks of tension at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between the two countries.

The border skirmishes, which started on May 5, at the Galwan Valley in the high-altitude Ladakh region in the north, and then at the Naku La mountain pass in northeastern Sikkim three days later, led to a military and diplomatic impasse between the two countries.

Thousands of soldiers on both sides have been camping along the un-demarcated LAC. 

The incident occurred at a time when a “de-escalation” process was underway in the valley. 

Congress party’s interim President Sonia Gandhi asked Modi about his government’s “strategy to deal with the situation on border.” 

“Today when there is anger in the country regarding this incident the PM should come forward and tell the truth to the country that how did China occupy our land and why did our 20 soldiers lose their lives?” she said.

She added that her party stands with the army and the government in this time of crisis, saying she is “confident the country will unite to face the enemy.”

Meanwhile, the Confederations of All-India Traders announced a boycott of Chinese imports despite the loss of business. The group, representing over 70 million traders in India, urged the government to take immediate steps to curb Chinese dominance.

They even requested that Indian celebrities stop endorsing Chinese brands.

India confirmed on Tuesday that at least 20 of its troops, including an officer, were killed in the eastern Ladakh area along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the de facto border of India and China in the disputed region.

The lates Border skirmishes between China and India began on May 5 in the Galwan Valley in Ladakh, followed by another in the Nakula pass in India’s northeastern Sikkim province three days later.

India-China border dispute 

India and China share 4,056 kilometers (2,520 miles) of the border known as the LAC, which traverses through union territory of Ladakh and four Indian states: Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh. On the Chinese side, the line crosses the Tibet Autonomous Region.

The dispute is a colonial legacy between British India and Tibet. When China annexed Tibet in 1950-51, it laid claim to historic lands that used to be parts of Tibet and started building a 1,200-km (750-mi) road connecting Xinjiang and western Tibet. Some 179 km (111 mi) of this road ran south of the Johnson Line through the Aksai Chin region claimed by India.

At the direction of then-Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his Chinese counterpart Zhou Enlai, officials from both countries held discussions to settle their boundaries. But the talks failed and tensions escalated into the 1962 Sino-Indian War, leading to nearly 3,000 causalities on the Indian side, and 700 on the Chinese side.

After the war, demarcation of the frontier existed as an informal cease-fire line until 1993, when its existence was officially accepted as the LAC in a bilateral agreement.

In 1988, both countries set up a joint working group to demarcate boundaries. In 1993, they agreed to maintain peace and tranquility on the borders, directing their militaries to patrol areas without arms, and to notify each other before patrolling.

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