Troops come to blows in India-China face-off
- The latest incident took place at Naku La area, which is at a height of over 5,000 metres, on January 20, when Chinese soldiers attempted to intrude into the Indian territory.
Indian and Chinese soldiers were involved in a brawl in north Sikkim last week, with soldiers from both armies suffering injuries in a clash that has turned the spotlight on the eastern sector even as rival soldiers are deployed eyeball to eyeball in Ladakh, officials familiar with the development said on Monday.
The latest incident took place at Naku La area, which is at a height of over 5,000 metres, on January 20, when Chinese soldiers attempted to intrude into the Indian territory, the officials cited above said, requesting anonymity. They added that the soldiers of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) were pushed back.
“It is clarified that there was a minor face-off at Naku La area of North Sikkim on January 20 and the same was resolved by local commanders as per established protocols,” the army said in a brief statement.
The Naku La area has traditionally not been prone to face-offs, and the developments reflected China’s aggressive behaviour in the eastern sector, the officials said.
Experts pointed to attempts by Beijing to open a new front amid the stalemate in the Ladakh sector, where tensions first erupted in May 2020. The two sides are holding diplomatic and military dialogues to defuse tensions there.
“I thought the use of the word ‘minor’ was best avoided. A clash is a clash. Just as we were awaiting the outcome of the ninth round of talks between military com mmanders, reports of an intrusion into Naku La represents an attitude that is anything but minor,” former ambassador Vishnu Prakash said.
The Chinese side neither confirmed nor denied the incident. “On the specific [incident] you mentioned, I don’t have any information to offer. I would like to stress though the Chinese border troops are committed to upholding peace and tranquility along the border with India,” Zhao Lijian, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, told the press in Beijing at a regular briefing.
He urged the “Indian side to work in the same direction” and “refrain from actions that might escalate or complicate the situation along the border”.
The news of the Naku La clash came hours before a joint statement by the two nuclear-armed neighbours, who agreed to a push for “early disengagement” of their frontline troops during the ninth round of military talks on Sunday. The talks went on for 16 hours.
“They [the two sides] also agreed to follow the important consensus of their state leaders, maintain the good momentum of dialogue and negotiation, and hold the 10th round of the corps commander-level meeting at an early date to jointly advance de-escalation,” the joint statement said.
The ongoing border tensions reached new heights in the aftermath of a clash in eastern Ladakh’s Galwan Valley on June 15 — the first deadly conflict between soldiers of the two sides along the contested Line of Actual Control (LAC) in 45 years. The clash resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers, including a commanding officer, and an undisclosed number of Chinese soldiers.
The Naku La episode is the second such incident in the eastern sector in less than a year. Four Indian soldiers and seven Chinese troops suffered injuries during a May 9, 2020, confrontation that involved around 150 soldiers.
Rival soldiers have so far clashed at least five times since the India-China border row erupted last year in the Ladakh sector. The situation there remains tense and the ongoing military and diplomatic dialogues have yet to make any positive impact.
On January 12, army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane said the Indian Army was prepared to hold its ground in eastern Ladakh “as long as it takes” to achieve national objectives in case the military and diplomatic talks with China were prolonged.
While the LAC in eastern Ladakh has been at the centre of the current border tensions, Indian forces are in a heightened state of alert all along the border with China, stretching from Himachal Pradesh to Uttarakhand to Sikkim to Arunachal Pradesh.
In his address to the nation on the eve of India’s 72nd Republic Day, President Ram Nath Kovind on Monday said while the country was committed to peace, its forces were “adequately mobilised” to thwart any attempt to undermine national security. “Our national interest will be protected at all costs,” he said.
A senior journalist of the Chinese official media said there was no record of last week’s clash in the PLA’s patrol log, an unusual remark given the secrecy surrounding the Chinese army.
“This is fake news. Based on what I learned, there is no record of this clash in the patrol log of the Chinese side. Small frictions often occur on China-India border area, but clash that caused multiple injuries will definitely be recorded and reported,” Hu Xijin, the high-profile editor of nationalistic Global Times tabloid, tweeted.
But experts said the Naku La incident appears to be part of a larger effort to both test India’s defences and open a new front in the face of the stalemate in the Ladakh sector, where tens of thousands of troops have dug in for the harsh winter.
“There is nothing the Chinese can now do in Ladakh which they can portray to their advantage,” Sameer Patil, fellow for international security studies at Gateway House, said. “Unlike previous standoffs, where the Chinese stepped back after intruding, there has been a fundamental change in the attitude of the Chinese. They aren’t stepping back this time after they were repelled and faced resistance.”
Enter your email to get our daily newsletter in your inbox
- Smriti Irani says, "I’m the only female politician who’s also recognised by her former vocation. I recognise the bias in that."
- An official said that both Houses could meet at 11 am from the second week following the vaccination of eligible MPs.
- A suicide note found at the spot said they took the decision because of acute financial distress, an official said.
- The changes have been opposed by some states who see it as another attempt by the Centre to take over mining auctions and impose central rules on a state domain.
- A re-invigorated biodiversity management policy is India’s survival strategy. At this point in our development trajectory, we don’t pay any heed to either biodiversity or landscape conservation.
- According to Forest Survey of India’s forest fire alert system, there were 2,317 fire points last year between February 26 and March 7, but the figure rose to 53,211 this time after data from the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (SNPP) was taken into account.