Officials in New Delhi have reported that Indian forces hindered an attempt by Chinese troops to occupy a hill on the Asian giants’ disputed border in the western Himalayas. This report represents the latest flare-up between the two nuclear-armed neighbours after twenty Indian soldiers were killed in June, fighting Chinese troops.
Indian military and government sources reported that, Indian troops mobilised to deter further encroachment after spotting the Chinese troops’ movement.
“We undertook measures to strengthen our positions and thwart Chinese intentions to unilaterally change facts on ground,” a statement from the Indian government said.
It added that Delhi was committed to peace talks but “is also equally determined to protect its territorial integrity”. Analysts say that such a public announcement from India suggests that the relative peace on the border has been broken.
China has however rejected the accusation that People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops had breached the border, as tensions between the two armies in the freezing snow deserts of the Ladakh region continue to run high.
“Chinese border troops have always strictly observed the Line of Actual Control and have never crossed the line. The border troops of the two countries have been in communication over territory issues,” China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian said.
Both sides are in communication regarding the situation on the ground, Zhao said. The Indian Army also disclosed military officials were meeting at the border.
In recent months, India has accused Chinese troops of stealthily crossing the border and building defence structures. Beijing has responded with counter claims, accusing Indian frontier guards of provocative actions.
20 Indian soldiers were killed with 76 injured in hand-to-hand fighting with Chinese troops in the nearby Galwan valley In June. The fighting took place without any firearms because of a 1996 agreement barring guns and explosives from the area. Both sides observed the protocol and refrained from using firearms on the disputed border, hence soldiers fought with rocks, clubs and their bare hands. China has not released any information about casualties on its side.
That was the neighbours’ most serious military clash in more than half a century. Both sides had agreed to pull back after that clash, but the Indian Army accused Chinese forces of violating that accord. Since then, the two sides have held several military-level and diplomatic talks to resolve the issue.
Troops have however remained facing off at other points along the border, including the shores of Pangong Tso lake which both countries claim in full.
India and China fought a war in 1962 over their competing territorial claims, and have been unable to agree a permanent border along their frontier of nearly 3,500 km.
Experts say the latest incident is likely to stoke anxiety in New Delhi that China is digging in its heels on the border issue.
“India has been trying to downplay the intrusions since May in the hope that talks will lead to a resolution. But this has only encouraged China,” Brahma Chellaney, an expert on India-China ties, said.