A dangerous escalation at India-China border has resulted in casualties on both the sides. India has said 20 of its army men, including a commanding officer were killed in “violent clashes” in Galwan Valley near Pangong Tso lake in the Himalayas on Monday night.
The Chinese side has avoided putting a number to the loss of life but at least one Chinese publication hinted at multiple fatalities.
The latest round of border tension is significant because of many reasons. This is the first time in 53 years that skirmishes between India and China have led to fatalities (since 1967). Second, the clashes on Monday came days after flag officers of the two countries held talks to de-escalate tensions in this remote region.
Clearly, an incident of this magnitude will require intervention from the highest level. The two countries, despite the border disputes, have a long history of excellent political and business relations
Diplomats of the two countries also worked on phone lines and subsequent statements from the two sides indicated a certain degree of de-escalation.
What provoked the latest round of violent clashes is not immediately clear. What is clear, however, is that Indian and Chinese troops engaged in fistfights, violently attacked each other with stones and batons.
No shots fired
Thankfully, no gun shots were fired. Still, the clashes are a disturbing sign on the Line of Actual Control or LAC, a term used by the two sides to define the de facto border.
The two sides’ agreement is limited to the definition and disagree on the actual location of the border at 13 points from Ladakh to the tip of India’s north east. Moreover, India and China disagree on the actual length of the border itself.
Monday’s escalation doesn’t appear to be simply be the case of a few over enthusiastic troops losing temper. India and China have well-defined escalation matrix for troops deployed on the LAC. Unlike India-Pakistan border where the two countries routinely engage with machine guns and heavy artillery, India and China have managed to keep the tension under control.
When tempers flare at the LAC, Indian and Chinese personnel carry out “banner patrols” — troops hold banners telling each other to push back.
On occasions, they come face to face, accusing and abusing each other and record such engagements on mobile phones. Therefore, Monday night’s violent incident is a big surprise.
Hours after the clashes, officers of the rank of major generals held talks to defuse the tension. Indian media described the clashes as “the most serious” in 50 years.
Clearly, an incident of this magnitude will require intervention from the highest level. New Delhi and Beijing must immediately take steps to bring the tensions down. The two countries, despite the border disputes, have a long history of excellent political and business relations.