India-China conflict on top of the world turns deadly for first time in decades

by WorldTribune Staff, June 16, 2020

At least 20 Indian soldiers were killed by Chinese troops during fighting on Monday at the disputed border area in the Himalayan Mountains, officials in India said.

The Indian government said Chinese forces also suffered casualties.

Indian and Chinese troops at the Himalayan frontier. / Instagram

India’s government said the fighting was instigated by Chinese troops operating in an area under Indian control. “India is very clear that all its activities are always within the Indian side,” a statement from India’s Foreign Ministry said. “We expect the same of the Chinese side.”

A Chinese spokesman said fighting erupted after Indian soldiers “provocatively attacked” in an area communist China considers under its control.

It was the first time in decades there have been casualties reported at the border area.

Tensions have increased in recent weeks along the 2,000-mile Himalayan border between India and China. Clashes in the high-elevation border area usually consist of fist fights, rock throwing and beating each other with sticks when patrols from the two sides encounter each other in disputed areas.

“Chinese and Indian troops have faced off for more than a month along a remote stretch of the mountainous frontier following a brawl between units patrolling one of the disputed areas. Since then, skirmishes have broken out at other disputed Himalayan border points, including along the northeastern part of India where scores of Indian and Chinese soldiers last month shouted at each other and exchanged physical blows, leaving some on both sides injured,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

In recent weeks, both countries have moved thousands of additional troops and armaments to a strategic border point near a high-altitude glacial lake, according to government officials.

Although no shots were fired in the clash, according to a senior Indian security official familiar with the details of the confrontation, analysts say the fatalities raise the stakes in the confrontation and increase the risk of a widening conflict.

“The military fatalities in a confrontation underscores the risk of a larger military conflict,” Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, told the Wall Street Journal.

Sreeram Chaulia, dean of the Jindal School of International Affairs, said China may be gambling that India is bogged down by its growing coronavirus outbreak, giving it a chance to edge its forces deeper into the disputed territory in hopes of obstructing New Delhi’s border infrastructure development.

“India is determinedly pushing ahead to ramp up its preparedness to defend its side of the line of actual control and has also developed counter-intrusion capabilities for the Indian army to penetrate into the Chinese-held side,” Chaulia told the Journal.

Kanti Prasad Bajpai, professor of international relations at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said China is concerned about India’s getting closer to the U.S. while India is worried about China’s growing aid and influence in South Asia, particularly its tightening ties to Pakistan.

“Both sides will most probably try to cool off the immediate fight, but not without some name calling first,” Bajpai said. “But it is likely that we will have a repeat in the future without a proper mechanism for de-escalation, as all the ones that had been put in place seem to have failed.”

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