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China and India Clash Over Disputed Himalayan Region

Updated: Jan 13

Ziryan Aziz investigates the developments surrounding escalating tensions between two of the world's largest nations.

Photo by Frank Holleman

The governments of India and China are in a new diplomatic row after a fatal incident on the 15th June occurred in the border area of Galwan river valley which flows between the Indian Ladakh territory and China’s Aksai Chin region.

Soldiers on both sides laid down their arms and engaged in what has been described as a ‘punch up’, after a minor confrontation between a Chinese and Indian military patrol.

The total number of dead and injured is still unconfirmed, but India’s intelligence service claims 20 of its soldiers were killed in the brawl, while some 50 Chinese soldiers died. China has not commented on its own or the Indian the death toll.

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What Happened?

The disputed area is an uninhabited, rocky, mountainous terrain that both China and India claim partial rights to. The Sino-Indian War was fought in 1962 to decide on its ownership, as the territory is believed to have strategic importance. The border is still heavily disputed today, and is determined by the Line of Actual Control (LAC), which isn’t permanent and is hard to maintain.

Varying accounts from both sides have been given as to how the events of this conflict transpired, but it is believed that both armies accused the other of violating an agreement etched in April 2019 when a similar incident took place.

According to Indian media, a small patrol of Indian and Chinese troops confronted each other on a ridge top in the valley. India has stated that the Chinese PLA (People's Liberation Army) soldiers confronted the patrol, and pushed one of the officers off the ridge. Backup on both sides was brought in, and some 600 troops engaged in hand-to-hand combat well into the night, with some brandishing makeshift weapons.

The Chinese Defence Ministry stated in wake of the violence that the violence was "completely caused by the Indian side's violation of consensus and unilateral provocation," and accused the Indian media of spreading a “large amount of fake news” about the incident.  China has given its own interpretation of events that Indian troops crossed into their side of the border, destroying tents before becoming violent to soldiers there. 

Chinese state broadcaster CGTN has since reported that 20 martial arts trainers are being sent to Tibet to prepare the soldiers there for future skirmishes.

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The Aftermath

The fallout of the clash has been different in the two countries. China has suggested that it doesn't want to jeopardise its relations with India, but maintains that the incident was entirely India's fault. However, according to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Zhao Lijian, the situation on the border is "overall stable and controllable."

The Indian reaction has been significantly different. Whilst the Indian foreign minister and his Chinese counterpart have agreed over a phone call to de-escalate and resolve the situation responsibly, the reaction of the Indian public has sparked a national debate over Chinese-Indian cooperation. Large scale movements have called for a boycott of Chinese-made products, future Chinese investments in India have been put on hold, and even the Chinese social media platform Tiktok has been banned. 

Calls for decoupling the Indian economy from China have been met with warnings from Chinese officials and the Global Times newspaper, and a mouthpiece of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) warned that economic distancing from China would be “illogical” and “self-destructive” for India.

Whilst bilateral relations have soured over the incident, it is unlikely that tensions will escalate further into a wider conflict as both nuclear powers will not wish to harm their economic growth.

You may also like: Coronavirus Paranoia Exposes Entrenched Islamophobia in India

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