India-China tensions rekindled on disputed Himalayan border

New confrontation after ‘provocative movements’ by Chinese troops, India claims

An Indian army soldier keeps guard as a convoy moves on the Srinagar-Ladakh highway at Gagangeer, northeast of Srinagar, in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Photograph: Mukhtar Khan/AP

An Indian army soldier keeps guard as a convoy moves on the Srinagar-Ladakh highway at Gagangeer, northeast of Srinagar, in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Photograph: Mukhtar Khan/AP


Indian and Chinese troops have engaged in another confrontation on their remote Himalayan border, the Indian government said, as both sides stepped up a war of words over the disputed territory.

The incident on Monday followed what New Delhi called “provocative movements” over the weekend in which Chinese troops allegedly tried to occupy an area claimed by India around a remote lake in the sparsely populated Ladakh region.

The growing animosity between the nuclear-armed neighbours follows a June clash in which 21 Indian soldiers died, and an unknown number of Chinese troops were killed or injured.

Months of talks to defuse tensions have failed to yield results, with both countries moving tens of thousands of troops along with heavy equipment into the once quiet region.

New Delhi this week accused China’s People’s Liberation Army of “provocative and aggressive actions” in the border region in the past few days, and demanded that Beijing “discipline and control their frontline troops”.

China accused India of “illegally trespassing” on to China’s side of the disputed border and demanded that Indian troops immediately withdraw. It added that New Delhi must “strictly control and restrain” its soldiers.

Pangong Lake

New Delhi said the most recent skirmishes occurred on the southern bank of the Pangong Lake, a region traditionally dominated by India. The area had not previously been a point of friction between the two countries.

India said Monday’s “provocative actions” occurred as rival military commanders were engaged in talks to defuse the tensions.

A senior Indian government official described the military manoeuvres on the remote and inhospitable Himalayan plateau as “something above a competition and below a conflict”.

In editorials on Monday and Tuesday, Global Times, a state-backed nationalist Chinese tabloid, accused India of taking a “radical and hardline” approach to border disputes, and urged Chinese troops to “resolutely counterattack” in the face of Indian aggression.

“The system that has managed the border situation for decades is now crumbling,” the newspaper said.

Until this year, the inhospitable borderlands of Ladakh, where oxygen levels are just 60 per cent of those at sea level and temperatures can drop to as low as minus 40 degrees, were mostly left unmanned in winter and only lightly guarded in summer, with border patrols covering vast areas of territory.

Occasionally, rival patrols would encounter each other in the disputed areas, which led to brawls, shouting matches and stone-throwing. Rival sides held up banners claiming the land as their own. But by mutually agreed protocol and established tradition, no firearms were used in these fights to avoid an inadvertent escalation of the conflict.

Entrenched positions

But tensions have surged this summer after New Delhi claimed that Chinese troops advanced and set up entrenched positions in areas India had traditionally patrolled and claimed as its own.

Hostilities boiled over in mid-June when troops engaged in the deadly brawl in the Galwan area, where Chinese troops had established a position.

New Delhi has attempted to retaliate against what it alleges is Chinese aggression with tough economic action targeting Chinese companies.

Since the Galwan clash, it has banned 59 Chinese apps, including popular video app TikTok, imposed further restrictions on Chinese investment, and informally told telecom operators to phase out Chinese equipment from suppliers such as Huawei from their networks. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020