In yet another bellicose move by China, the Chinese military, the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA), sparked a new border clash with India. Two separate incidents, which occurred within a 48-hour period, left one Indian soldier of Tibetan origin dead.
While the two sides have had a border dispute in the Himalayas for decades, this latest clash comes after the PLA conducted an incursion into the southern end of the Pangong Tso Lake, an area accepted to be Indian territory.
The PLA built encampments to take possession of hilltops around Pangong Tso, a lake at an altitude of 13,800 feet. Then, inside of the contested area, the PLA began building infrastructure around the encampments to support larger operations and lay claim to the area. It is a tactic that both sides have used.
When Indian troops arrived, a scuffle broke out that nearly erupted in another all-out brawl like the one that occurred in June. A Chinese PLA Colonel then withdrew his troops, reportedly against the wishes of Beijing.
Neither side has commented on casualties, but a report from AFP news quoted Namgyal Dolkar Lhagyari, a member of the Tibetan Parliament in exile, who said that the soldier was “martyred during the clash” on Saturday night. She added that another member of the Special Frontier Force was wounded. India’s Frontier Force reportedly includes many ethnic Tibetans.
The contested region in Ladakh Himalayan saw heavy combat between the two countries in 1962. Back in June, the two sides engaged in a serious border clash in the Galwan River Valley region. The fighting, which took place with rocks and clubs, resulted in the death of 20 Indian soldiers. China didn’t release numbers, but it is believed to have suffered a number of casualties as well.
Each side has accused the other of provoking this most recent clash.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said: “The Indian side has severely undermined China’s territorial sovereignty, breached bilateral agreements and important consensus, and damaged peace and tranquility in the border areas, which runs counter to the recent efforts made by both sides for de-escalation of tensions on the ground.” The PLA said that India was “seriously violating China’s territorial sovereignty” with its operation on Monday and demanded that Indian troops withdraw.
Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said in a statement that, “Due to timely defensive action, the Indian side was able to prevent these attempts from unilaterally altering the status quo.”
The Chinese are dismissing the threat of conflict with India and their aggressive attitude is apparent. In an editorial of “The Global Times,” which is considered a PLA proxy news service, India was dismissed as inferior.
“China is an immovable neighbor and much stronger than India,” the editorial said. “The two countries are suitable to be partners in seeking common development. But if New Delhi wants to label Beijing its long-term strategic rival, it needs to be prepared to pay a huge cost. In the meantime, it will never manage to get one more inch of land at China-India border areas.”
The Pentagon has stated that China, over the last decade, has been intent on expanding its reach in contested regions along its entire border, from India and neighboring Bhutan to disputed waterways that it claims as its own in the East and South China seas.
“China’s leaders use tactics short of armed conflict to pursue China’s objectives. China calibrates its coercive activities to fall below the threshold of provoking armed conflict with the United States, its allies and partners, or others in the Indo-Pacific region,” the Pentagon’s 2020 annual China Military Report stated. The report provides an assessment of the PLA’s activities and general posture.
The timing of this latest Chinese move has puzzled intelligence analysts. It was believed that the Chinese government had underestimated the reaction of the Indian people over the attempted incursion into Indian territory in June and was thus moving to repair its strained relations with its neighbor.
The two countries are the two most populous countries in the world and share a 2,100 mile-long border.