In a rare incident on the de facto border between India and China, troops from both the sides opened fire on Monday, a major escalation since June when 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a brutal hand to hand combat in western Himalayas.
Statements from the both the sides indicate the firing was in the air, aimed at intimidating each other and did not result in injuries or casualties.
Still, the danger is that a trigger once pulled — even if to warn — can quickly spiral into a mini conflict between the Asian rivals in a region where troops are locked in eyeball to eyeball proximity for the last several months.
Border skirmishes at alarming intervals show that talks between military commanders, diplomats and ministers are not making progress. It is important that leadership of the two countries step in and tell their troops to disengage in order to avoid a full blown conflict
The two countries have a fought a war in 1962 and contest the actual length and location of the border that runs from Ladakh to the north-eastern tip of India. India and China have issued detailed statements on Monday’s incident, blaming each other of crossing the border and approaching forward locations.
Given the remoteness of the region, it is hard to get an independent account of the latest or previous standoffs. What is, however, disturbingly clear is that the two countries are boosting troop presence and building up infantry in flashpoint areas.
Fortunately, the two countries have so far kept the dialogue open, engaging at field commander, diplomatic and political levels. Indian and Chinese military commanders have met several times since June and diplomats from the two sides continue to talk.
The defence ministers also met recently in Moscow, demonstrating their willingness and ability to engage even in the absence of tangible progress on the ground.
The international community is anxiously watching the growing tension between New Delhi and Beijing. In recent past, US President Donald Trump has spoken on the standoff and on occasions appears to have supported India’s position.
Still, Trump, who is locked in a bitter presidential contest at home, is unlikely to find time or energy to intervene. Moscow, which hosted the two defence ministers, is also in an awkward situation and not in a position to choose between traditional partners.
Therefore, the only option left before India and China is to keep talking and take every possible step to de-escalate the tension. President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, having met several times in recent years, enjoy a personal rapport and understanding.
Border skirmishes at alarming intervals show that talks between military commanders, diplomats and ministers are not making progress. It is important that leadership of the two countries step in and tell their troops to disengage in order to avoid a full blown conflict.