China and India have blamed each other for the clash at Galwan Valley in the western Himalayas on Monday, which killed at least 20 Indian soldiers.

An Indian army convoy moves on the Srinagar- Ladakh highway at Gagangeer, north-east of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir on June 18, 2020
An Indian army convoy moves on the Srinagar- Ladakh highway at Gagangeer, north-east of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir on June 18, 2020 (AP)

India said on Thursday it was using diplomatic channels with China to de-escalate a military standoff in a remote Himalayan border region where 20 Indian soldiers were killed this week.

Responding to China's claim to the disputed Galwan Valley in the western Himalayas, India's External Affairs Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said both sides agreed to handle the situation responsibly.

"Making exaggerated and untenable claims is contrary to this understanding,” he said in a statement.

Monday’s clash that killed 20 Indian troops was the deadliest between the sides in 45 years. China has not said whether it suffered any casualties. 

India held funerals for some of the soldiers killed in brutal hand-to-hand fighting with Chinese troops at subzero temperatures in a disputed mountainous border region, as the two nuclear powers sought to de-escalate tensions.

Troops remained on alert at the Galwan Valley three days after the clashes, in which India said China had also suffered casualties. Unconfirmed reports by Indian media say 40 Chinese soldiers were killed. 

Rising tensions with China, whose economy is five times bigger than India's and has a better-funded military, has become Prime Minister Narendra Modi's most serious foreign policy challenge since he took power in 2014.

The two nuclear-armed countries fought a brief border war in 1962 and have had occasional flare-ups when patrols have confronted each other at the poorly defined Line of Actual Control, or the de facto border.

But on Monday night, hundreds of soldiers fought with iron rods and clubs studded with nails in freezing heights for several hours.

Dozens of people lined the street in the southern town of Suryapet as the body of army colonel B Santosh Babu wrapped in the Indian flag was brought home.

Funerals of other soldiers will also be taking place in their hometowns and villages, including several in the eastern state of Bihar.

READ MORE:  Beijing calls for de-escalation as Modi plans huddle on soldier deaths

India cautions China as companies call for Chinese boycott

Responding to China's claim to the valley, India's External Affairs Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said on Thursday both sides agreed to handle the situation responsibly.

“Making exaggerated and untenable claims is contrary to this understanding,” he said in a statement.

Both sides accused each other of instigating the clash between their forces in the valley, part of the disputed Ladakh region along the Himalayan frontier.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, an Indian confederation of small and midsize companies called for a boycott of 500 Chinese goods including toys and textiles to express “strong criticism” of China's alleged aggression in Ladakh.

The call for a boycott followed Wednesday protests in New Delhi where demonstrators destroyed items they said were made in China while chanting “China get out”.

The Himalayan clash has fanned anti-Chinese sentiment already running high due to the coronavirus. India is counting more than 366,000 cases and 12,237 deaths.

But a broader boycott could backfire for India if China chose to retaliate by banning exports to India of the raw ingredients used by India's pharmaceutical industry.

Indian security forces said neither side fired any shots, instead throwing rocks and trading blows.

The Indian soldiers, including a colonel, died of severe injuries and exposure in the area's sub-zero temperatures, the officials said.

The clash escalated a stand-off in the disputed region that began in early May, when Indian officials said Chinese soldiers crossed the boundary at three different points, erecting tents and guard posts and ignoring warnings to leave. 

That triggered shouting matches, stone-throwing and fistfights, much of it replayed on television news channels and social media.

READ MORE:  Chinese and Indian troops clashed in freezing Galwan Valley. Here’s why

China warns New Delhi not to underestimate Beijing 

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned New Delhi not to underestimate Beijing's determination to safeguard what it considers its sovereign territory.

His comments came in a phone call Wednesday with his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

Wang said China demanded that India conduct a thorough investigation and “harshly punish” those responsible.

Jaishankar, in turn, accused China of erecting a structure in the Galwan Valley, which he called a “premeditated and planned action that was directly responsible for the resulting violence and casualties”, according to a statement.

He added that the incident would have “serious repercussions” on India's relationship with China, but that both sides were committed to further disengaging on the remote plateau of the Himalayan terrain.

China claims about 90,000 square kilometres of territory in India’s northeast, while India says China occupies 38,000 square kilometres of its territory in the Aksai Chin Plateau in the Himalayas, a contiguous part of the Ladakh region.

India unilaterally declared Ladakh a federal territory while separating it from disputed Kashmir in August 2019. China was among the handful of countries to strongly condemn the move, raising it at international forums including the UN Security Council.

Thousands of soldiers on both sides have faced off over a month along a remote stretch of the 3,380-kilometre Line of Actual Control, the border established following a war between India and China in 1962 that resulted in an uneasy truce.

Satellite images suggest Chinese activity in region before clash

In the days leading up to the clash, China brought in pieces of machinery, cut a trail into a Himalayan mountainside and may have even dammed a river, satellite pictures suggest.

The images, shot on Tuesday, a day after soldiers engaged in hand-to-hand combat in the freezing Galwan Valley, show an increase in activity from a week earlier.

The satellite pictures, taken by Earth-imaging company Planet Labs and obtained by Reuters, show signs of altering the landscape of the valley through widening tracks, moving earth and making river crossings, one expert said.

The images shows machinery along the bald mountains and in the Galwan River.

"Looking at it in Planet, it looks like China is constructing roads in the valley and possibly damming the river," Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at California’s Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

"There are a ton of vehicles on both sides (of the LAC) - although there appear to be vastly more on the Chinese side. I count 30-40 Indian vehicles and well over 100 vehicles on the Chinese side."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies