Three Indian soldiers killed in clash with Chinese troops as border tensions rise
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Front) and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands with the leaders at a summit in Goa, India in 2016. (Manish Swarup / Associated Press)
The Indian army announced Tuesday that three of its employees were killed in a border skirmish with Chinese troops. This was the first fatal clash along the controversial border between the two Asian giants in almost half a century.
The standoff in the remote Galwan Valley was a significant and worrying turn in a week-long standoff along the 2,500-mile border, which reportedly deployed thousands of troops from both countries for punishing the Himalayas.
The Indian army said that two soldiers and one officer were killed in a "violent clash" and that the Chinese army had also suffered. It was not immediately clear how the three Indians died.
China accused Indian troops of crossing the border in breach of an armistice. India did not comment on the causes of the confrontation.
"High-ranking military officials from both sides are currently meeting locally to mitigate the situation," said a statement by the Indian army.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters: "Indian troops have seriously violated both sides' consensus, crossed the border twice, and carried out provocative attacks on Chinese personnel."
It was the first time since an Indian patrol was attacked by Chinese troops in the mountainous state of Arunachal Pradesh in 1975 that a border conflict between the two nations had resulted in death.
The violence also reflected China's willingness - under President Xi Jinping's increasingly muscular leadership - to defend or assert territorial claims while its regional neighbors are engaged in the fight against the novel corona virus, which first appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan last year has been discovered and has already been spread around the world.
Beijing claimed to have suppressed the virus through draconian control measures, condemned international efforts to investigate the causes of the outbreak, and continued its aggressive naval buildup in the controversial South China Sea.
"China really doesn't want to have a conflict with India, but it's not afraid of conflict with India either," Hu Xijin, editor of the nationalist tabloid Global Times, wrote on Tuesday on Weibo, a Chinese social media site:
"Hope India remains self-aware and does not forget the lessons of history. There are no possible advantages for yourself or for the region if they lead to further conflicts on the border between China and India. I hope you are not looking for any other lessons from China, ”Hu wrote.
According to Indian security analysts, Chinese troops crossed the border in several places and crossed rough terrain last month to penetrate at least three kilometers in some areas. Chinese troops refused to move and some military officials in New Delhi concluded that the People's Liberation Army was trying to unilaterally redraw the border.
Analysts said the trigger for the Chinese incidents was apparently an increase in road construction by Indian forces on their side of the border, which could help India to restore its forces. Indian media reports say thousands of Chinese troops have been sent to the region in the past month, although most were in rearguard positions.
The controversial border, known as the Line of Actual Control, cuts through parts of Kashmir on the Indian side and Tibet on the Chinese side and has been the scene of low-level skirmishes for decades.
A photo from 2008 shows a Chinese soldier gesturing next to an Indian soldier at the Nathu La border crossing in the northeastern Indian state of Sikkim. (Diptendu Dutta / AFP / Getty Images)
In 2017, Indian troops blocked Chinese construction workers and border guards trying to extend a road through the area claimed by the tiny kingdom of Bhutan. The result was a two-month standoff that ended after both sides agreed to withdraw their forces from the plateau.
Since last month, the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, struggling to contain one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world, has downplayed tensions and declared that a de-escalation process is underway.
What was particularly alarming for New Delhi was that Monday's clash took place in a valley between the Indian-managed Ladakh and the Chinese territory of Aksai Chin, which India believed was firmly in its possession.
An Indian Army truck will be driving near Lake Pangong in the Indian border region of Ladakh in 2018. (Manish Swarup / Associated Press)
Chinese troops occupied the Galwan Valley during a brief border war in 1962 and then returned the area to India. But last month, the Global Times described the region in the Galwan Valley as "Chinese territory".
Some analysts believed that China's growing military might have encouraged Beijing to take risks, even against big neighbors like India, another nuclear power.
"China is increasingly trying to redraw its land and sea borders under Xi," said Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi. "His success in the South China Sea, where he fundamentally changed the status quo without firing a shot, encouraged his movements in the Himalayan border area."
Chellaney said China had been encouraged by the mass incarceration of Muslim citizens in Xinjiang and the Hong Kong action, for which Beijing has had few major setbacks internationally.
"As long as China doesn't pay a significant geopolitical price on its expansion agenda," he said, "it will continue on the current path."
Su reported from Beijing and Bengali from Singapore.
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