Irshad Salim — In a tense standoff between nuclear-armed nations that threatens to destabilize Asia, both sides are digging in, with one warning of unspecified “countermeasures” and the other saying it won’t be bullied.
In this case, it’s not the United States and North Korea — whose leaders exchanged bombastic warnings last week — but India and China — both are increasingly confident players in a battle for supremacy in southern Asia.
According to latest reports, Indian and Chinese troops clashed briefly on a disputed area of land in the Himalayas, exacerbating tensions during a months-long stand-off between the two armies in an impasse over a remote Himalayan plateau.
AFP report, Chinese troops threw stones at Indian soldiers near Pangong Lake, a major tourist attraction in the picturesque mountain region of Ladakh on Tuesday, citing an Indian defense official who said Chinese soldiers had twice tried to enter the Indian territory, but had been pushed back –after stones being thrown by both sides.
“There was a minor incident. There was some stone pelting from the Chinese side but the situation was quickly brought under control,” he said on condition of anonymity. The brief confrontation was resolved after Indian and Chinese sides retreated to their respective positions, he added.
Police in India-administered Kashmir, where Ladakh is located, said clashes were relatively common along the de facto border known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC). “These things happen every summer but this one was slightly prolonged and more serious but no weapons were used,” said a police source in Srinagar.
The Pangong lake area lies over 4,000 meters high on the Tibetan plateau.
The latest incident comes amid an ongoing dispute between the two sides over a strategic Himalayan plateau thousands of kilometers away where hundreds of Indian and Chinese soldiers have been facing off against each other for more than two months.
The border trouble began in June when Chinese soldiers started to extend a road through the Doklam territory—known as “Donglang” in Chinese. The area is disputed between China and Bhutan. India, a close ally of Bhutan, then deployed troops to stop the construction project, prompting Beijing to accuse India of trespassing on Chinese soil.
China has said India must withdraw its troops before any proper negotiation takes place. India said both sides should withdraw their forces together.
The plateau is strategically significant as it gives China access to the so-called “chicken’s neck”—a thin strip of land connecting India’s northeastern states with the rest of the country.
Indian media said the Chinese army had this year declined to participate in ceremonial meetings usually held to mark Independence Day on Tuesday. It was the first time since 2005 that the meetings were not held.
The two neighbors fought a brief war in 1962 in India’s border state of Arunachal Pradesh. Tensions along the LAC rose in 2014 when Chinese soldiers moved into territory claimed by India, sparking a two-week military standoff that overshadowed a visit by China’s President Xi Jinping.
India has quietly built up its military capabilities –in the plains of Ladakh, site of two previous border standoffs with China in 2013 and 2014– by posting additional infantry troops, army reservists and tanks. And, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been displaying more willingness to confront China than his predecessors.
At his 2014 swearing-in, Modi irked Beijing by inviting the leader of the India-based government-in-exile of Tibet, which China views as part of its territory. New Delhi has opposed Xi’s signature Belt and Road Initiative, arguing that it encroaches on Indian lands and expressing skepticism over Chinese intentions.
Under President Xi Jinping, Beijing has initiated the mammoth Belt and Road infrastructure-building project westward through Pakistan and cultivated closer ties with countries — including Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan — that long have been in India’s orbit.