Fierce confrontation: India, China fistfight at high-altitude disputed border

A confrontation between India and China spiked up when several soldiers on both sides were injured following a border dispute. India & China have been involved in border clashes since 1962 when both fought a border war. What impact this recent escalation can have on the regional strategic balance?

India

Several Indian and Chinese soldiers were injured in a high-altitude cross-border clash involving fistfights and stone-throwing at a remote but strategically important mountain pass near Tibet, the Indian Army said Sunday.

There have been long-running border tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors, with a bitter war fought over India’s northeastern-most state of Arunachal Pradesh in 1962.

“Aggressive behavior by the two sides resulted in minor injuries to troops. It was stone-throwing and arguments that ended in a fistfight,” Indian Army Eastern Command spokesman Mandeep Hooda told AFP.

Read more: Modi’s visit expected to ease India-China tensions

The “stand-off” on Saturday at Naku La sector near the 15,000-feet (4,572-metre) Nathu La crossing in the northeastern state of Sikkim — which borders Bhutan, Nepal and China — was later resolved after “dialogue and interaction” at a local level, Hooda said.

“Temporary and short duration face-offs between border-guarding troops do occur as boundaries are not resolved,” he added.

Some 150 soldiers were involved in the face-off, the Press Trust of India reported.

There have been numerous face-offs and brawls between Chinese and Indian soldiers, including one near the northwest Indian region of Ladakh captured on video in 2017, where troops were seen throwing punches and stones.

In 2017, there was a high-altitude standoff in Bhutan’s Doklam region for two months after the Indian army sent troops to stop China from constructing a road there.

Relations since the standoff over Doklam between the two Asian giants appeared to improve following talks between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Wuhan, China in 2018.

Read more: Xi, Modi agree to reduce border tensions

The two men also met last October in Chennai in southern India.

China still claims about 90,000 square kilometers (35,000 square miles) of territory under New Delhi’s control.

India-China border dispute

China honed its “salami tactics” in the Himalayas in the 1950s, when it grabbed the Aksai Chin plateau by surreptitiously building a strategic highway through that unguarded region.

Aksai Chin, part of the original princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, provided China with the only passageway between its restive regions of Tibet and Xinjiang.

Although there is a general framework to settle the India-China border dispute, neither side can move forward with any agreement because a) both sides are “fundamentally distrustful of each other”, and b) domestic politics will prevent either side from making any concessions. He said the talks have reached an impasse, and there is no hope of settling the issue in the near future. India and China have been involved in a high-altitude fistfight from long time.

Domestic politics play a major role in the dispute, and neither side would be able to make concessions without angering their domestic audience.

Although China is not a democracy like India, the Chinese Government is afraid of rousing a public that is already sensitive about border issues.

In 2018 India and China were caught in a lengthy confrontation along their shared frontier, spiking tensions and allowing a rabidly jingoistic press in both countries to aggravate the already deep-seated mutual distrust.

The current confrontation seems to be the most serious in recent times and shows no signs of de-escalating. Both countries upped the ante and deployed around 3,000 troops each in the tri-junction. This high-altitude fistfight have very bad consequences for both countries.

“We firmly believe that the face-off in the Donglang area will end up with the Indian troops in retreat. The Indian military can choose to return to its territory with dignity or be kicked out of the area by Chinese soldiers,” China’s nationalist tabloid Global Times said on July 5.

“This time we must teach New Delhi a bitter lesson.” An article on the PLA’s English-language website, China Military Online, has warned that “if a solution isn’t reached through diplomatic or military communication or the issue isn’t handled properly, another armed conflict … is not completely out of the question.”

Chinese and Indian border troops confronted each other close to a valley controlled by China that separates India from Bhutan – a close Indian ally – and gives China access to the so-called Chicken’s Neck, a thin strip of land that connects India to its remote northeastern regions. It escalated tensions between the neighboring giants, who share a 3,500-kilometer (2,175-mile) frontier, large parts of which are disputed.

AFP with additional input from GVS News Desk

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