Indian Army confirms face-off with China in Sikkim
The Indian Army on Sunday confirmed that a heated confrontation took place between Indian and Chinese soldiers in north Sikkim on Saturday, resulting in injuries to troops on both sides. Soldiers from the two countries also clashed in eastern Ladakh last week, a senior officer said, asking not to be named.
The army statement came on a day Hindustan Times reported that scores of Indian and Chinese soldiers were involved in a tense face-off at Naku La in Sikkim and the scuffle left 11 soldiers injured.
“Incident of face-off as referred to in the (HT) article did take place. Aggressive behaviour by the two sides resulted in minor injuries to troops,” the statement said.
The army said “temporary and short duration face-offs” between border guarding troops do occur as boundaries are not resolved. The statement said the two sides disengaged after dialogue and interaction at the local level. “Troops resolve such issues mutually as per established protocols,” the statement added.
Four Indian and seven Chinese soldiers were injured during the confrontation that involved about 150 soldiers.
Such face-offs do take place along the disputed border but this has possibly happened for the first time at Naku La, said Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (retd), a former Director General of Military Operations.
“There are rare occasions when the two sides get into heated arguments over their perceived land claims, leading to pushing and shoving. On the positive side, the last shot was fired along the India-China border in October 1975,” said Bhatia, who has commanded the Sukna-based HQs 33 Corps, which is responsible for Sikkim.
He said face-offs were on the rise as both sides were patrolling the borders more than before because of better access and improved infrastructure.
A scuffle broke out between Indian and Chinese soldiers near Pangong Lake in eastern Ladakh last week (the night of May 5-6) but a flare-up was avoided as both armies stuck to protocols to resolve the stand-off, said the senior officer cited above. He said a few soldiers on both sides suffered minor injuries.
The Asian giants have had a long-standing border dispute that led to a war in 1962. The festering feud causes around 400 face-offs every year along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
Indian and Chinese soldiers have been involved in fistfights earlier, too. In August 2017, they threw stones at each other and exchanged blows near Pangong Lake. The clash near the LAC aggravated bilateral tensions as it happened at a time when the two neighbours were locked in a long stand-off in the disputed Doklam plateau close to Sikkim.
The 73-day Doklam stand-off between India and China along the Sikkim border was likely to be the new normal, the Centre for Joint Warfare Studies (CENJOWS) said in 2017, making a strong case for building military capabilities “as China respected strength”.
In a paper titled Looking Beyond Doklam, the CENJOWS, a think tank set up by the defence ministry, said it was crucial for India to demonstrate strength as peace along the disputed border will be “constantly and continuously” under stress, with “increase in frequency, intensity and depth of (Chinese) transgressions leading to more and more stand-offs.”
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