With relations between Beijing and Delhi deteriorating at a rapid clip ever since the ridiculous scuffle in Doklam it seems a shooting war is about to erupt at any moment. But both sides have still exercised restraint, confining their vitriol to bad press and coded threats.
Yet in another remote part of the Sino-Indian frontier this week, matters seem to have gotten violent again.
The extremely rugged borderland shared by the two countries is full of potential flashpoints. According to a scoop from Reuters, soldiers from either side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Kashmir’s Ladakh region were involved in a physical altercation near Lake Pangong.
The area is well within Indian territory but the Chinese claim a part of the lake as their own. Reuters correspondents Fayaz Bukhari and Sanjeev Miglani quoted unnamed sources in India who described an unexpected clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers.
Bukhari and Miglani reveal that on August 15, a Tuesday morning, a group of Chinese soldiers crossed into Ladakh and were stopped by Indian troops. The confrontation that ensued involved “rods and stones” and caused “minor injuries on both sides.” It’s now understood the fighting had soldiers from either country throwing rocks at each other in an exchange that didn’t produce serious casualties. Though it was later reported one Indian soldier did sustain “head injuries.”
The date of the showdown meant bad timing for China, since it fell on independence day for both India and Pakistan.
But the obscure outbreak of violence in Lake Pangong is far from extraordinary. The persistent tension over the Sino-Indian frontier dates to China’s conquest of the Tibetan plateau in the 1950s. Once Tibet proper was subdued from 1950 to 1959 and its capital Lhasa put under occupation, not only did the Dalai Lama and his retinue seek refuge in India, but the PLA began seizing smaller chunks of territory from its large neighbor.
This effort climaxed in 1962 when a short border war erupted over Arunachal Pradesh to chastise Delhi. The Sino-Indian War (October 20 – November 21, 1962) is considered a defeat for the Indian Army, whose outposts were surrounded and overrun by battle hardened PLA regulars in the course of a month. The PLA were also able to annex an inaccessible corner of Jammu and Kashmir called Aksai Chin.
These actions gave China formidable buffers to deter any movement toward Tibet. Although the geographic advantage didn’t prevent the CIA from infiltrating Tibetan partisans from 1957 until 1972.
Indian forces have skirmished with the Chinese on numerous occasions, like in 1967 and 1987, but these were inconsequential. The latest standoff in Doklam near the Bhutanese border started in June when unarmed Indian soldiers physically blocked PLA regulars from moving around a road construction site.
The recent confrontation in Ladakh this August is further proof that both sides are resolute about their claims. A pre-scheduled “flag meeting” took place the day after the stone-throwing battle but positive results didn’t materialize other than vague assurances of discussions.
The relevant part of the Reuters story can be read below:
NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – Indian and Chinese soldiers were involved in an altercation in the western Himalayas on Tuesday, Indian sources said, further raising tensions between the two countries which are already locked in a two-month standoff in another part of the disputed border.
A source in New Delhi, who had been briefed on the military situation on the border, said soldiers foiled a bid by a group of Chinese troops to enter Indian territory in Ladakh, near the Pangong lake.
Some of the Chinese soldiers carried iron rods and stones, and in the melee there were minor injuries on both sides, the source said.
China’s defense and foreign ministries did not immediately respond to request for comment.
The two sides have frequently accused each other of intrusions into each other’s territories, but clashes are rare.
The Indian military declined to comment on the incident.
“There was an altercation near the Pangong lake,” said a police officer in Srinagar, the capital of India’s Jammu and Kashmir state, under which the area falls. An army source in Srinagar also spoke of an altercation following what he called a Chinese army “incursion in Pangong lake area”.