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NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday that India “knows how to retaliate” amid reports of a military buildup on its disputed border with China in the Himalayan region of Ladakh.

“India has given a befitting response to those who dared to eye her territory in Ladakh,” Modi said, referring to June 15 clashes that claimed the lives of 20 Indian soldiers at the Galwan Valley in Ladakh — the first such incident between Indian and Chinese troops in 45 years.

“India knows how to maintain friendships, but it can also look someone in the eye and retaliate and give an apt reply,” the prime minister said in his monthly radio address.

The comments come as reports suggest New Delhi has deployed the advanced quick-reaction surface-to-air missile defense system Akash to the border.

“As part of the ongoing buildup in the sector, the air defense systems of both Indian Army and the Indian Air Force have been deployed in the sector to prevent any misadventure by the Chinese fighter jets or the People’s Liberation Army choppers there,” a local news agency reported, quoting  government sources.

Manoj Kewalramani, of the Bangalore-based think tank Takshashila Institution, told Arab News it is clear that “there has been a change in the status quo from April, with the Chinese army establishing new positions in areas where it didn’t have them earlier.”

He added: “There has also clearly been a buildup on both sides despite talks continuing. It’s a tense situation, and it seems it will be protracted in nature,” he said.

According to political analyst Prof. Srikanth Kondapalli, of Jawahallal Nehru University, “the entire border from Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh to Ladakh is active now.” 

Tensions escalated in early May when Indian troops accused China’s military of hindering their patrols along the Ladakh and Sikkim border.

In return, Beijing blamed its southern neighbor for building road infrastructure in the Fingers region around the Pangong Tso Lake and Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh.

Violence broke out in the Galwan Valley on June 15 when both sides were supposedly negotiating de-escalation measures.

Three days later, Modi addressed the nation, saying “no one has intruded” into Indian territory.

He has since been accused of failing to tell the truth by the main opposition Congress Party and former army generals, who said that satellite images showed a Chinese buildup on the Indian side of the border. 

“The prime minister should address the nation and tell the truth that the Chinese have encroached on our land. Otherwise the Chinese will use his statement to their advantage,” Congress spokesperson Kapil Sibal said on Saturday.

However, according to Kondapalli, the government is unable to reveal strategic information.

“The previous Congress regime did not do that,” he said, adding that transgressions on the undefined border occur every day.

Border tensions have led to a campaign to boycott Chinese goods in India.

China has major investments in the Indian economy, accounting for $5.5 billion until last year. China’s exports to India amounted to $57.86 billion in 2019, compared with imports that stood at $16.32 billion. China’s smartphone companies also hold a 75 percent share of the Indian market. 

“The boycott campaign reflects public sentiment,” economist Amit Bhandari, of the Mumbai-based think tank Gateway House, told Arab News.

“Trade links with China have developed over the past 20 to 30 years, and what has been there for so many years cannot be undone in a few days or months. It would be massively disruptive,” he said.

“The purpose of the boycott is that you want to impose a disproportionate amount of financial damage to the other side. China is vulnerable in its investment in the technology sector.”

However, Manoj Kewalramani argues that instead of a “knee-jerk reaction,” what is needed is “a nuanced re-evaluation of the Sino-Indian economic relationship to reduce strategic vulnerabilities.” 

He added: “We are entering a new phase in the bilateral relationship that will require new rules of engagement.”

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