India-China scuffle in Ladakh: Asian neighbours on the edge of military conflict, US daily says on Doka La stand-off

Even as foreign media keeps a close eye on nuclear-armed US and North Korea jawing at each other, it has also observed that only a little further away, India and China too are dangerously close to a military conflict. The Washington Post in a report on Thursday laid down the geo-political scenario which is playing out across the India-China border.

The report cites analysts who say that the current dispute is particularly worrisome as the relations between two countries are declining, as China frames the issue as a threat to its territorial integrity. Further, the conflict, for the first time, also involves a third country, Bhutan.

The latest trouble between New Delhi and Beijing arose on Wednesday after Indian border guards on Tuesday frustrated an attempt by Chinese soldiers to enter Indian territory along the banks of Pangong lake in Ladakh. This resulted in stone pelting which caused minor injuries to people on both sides.

PLA soldiers had tried to enter the Indian side in two areas — Finger Four and Finger Five — twice between 6 am and 9 am. But on both the occasions their attempts were thwarted by alert Indian troops. After Chinese troopers found their path blocked by Indian soldiers who formed a human chain, they began hurling stones, prompting a swift retaliation by Indian border guards.

The situation was brought under control after the customary banner drill under which both sides hold banners before stepping back to their respective positions.

The scuffle between Indian and Chinese troops was discussed in a marathon meeting between the military officers of the two countries on Wednesday, media reported on Wednesday. The meeting started on Wednesday afternoon and went on till late in the evening. The exact details of the meeting are unknown as neither the Indian Army nor the Indo-Tibetan Border Police offered any comments. Defence minister Arun Jaitley had refused to comment on the matter as the well.

Government sources told Hindustan Times that the "pre-scheduled border personnel meeting" was held in Ladakh's Chushul area. They also said that the two sides discussed ways to strengthen existing mechanisms for maintaining peace on the border. The Pangong incident was on the agenda as well.

Pangong Lake. AP

Pangong Lake. AP

The Hindu said that while standoffs in the Ladakh region are almost routine in the summer, officials were surprised by the stone pelting between both sides. NDTV too reported that clashes in Ladakh are the first of their kind in years. While India and China accuse each other of intrusions at the border, they rarely indulge in violence.

China says it was unaware of any scuffle

China on Wednesday had claimed that it was not aware of the skirmish and stated that its border troops always patrol on the Chinese side along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). It also asked India to abide by the LAC.

"I am not aware of them. The Chinese border troops are always committed to maintaining peace and tranquillity along the border," Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a briefing. "We always patrol on the Chinese side along the Line of Actual Control. And we urge the India side to abide by the Line of Actual Control," she said.

According to The Times of India, the denial is not surprising as it is China's policy to claim large tracts of land as part of its territory.

Pangong lake a bone of contention

The Pangong lake area lies over 4,000 metres (13,000 feet) high on the Tibetan plateau. This area has been a bone of contention between India and China as both claim it to be a part of their territory.

When the Indian side staked claim to the area during negotiations in late 1990s, the Chinese army constructed a metal-top road and insisted it was part of Aksai Chin, which is under the latter's control, officials said. China had constructed a road up to Finger Four which falls under Siri Jap area, and is five km deep into the LAC.

Sikkim standoff continues

The latest incident comes amid an ongoing dispute between the two sides over a strategic Himalayan plateau thousands of kilometres away where hundreds of Indian and Chinese soldiers have been facing off against each other for more than two months.

India braces for more attacks

Another report from The Times of India quoted sources in the Indian defence establishment as saying that India is bracing for more "shallow intrusions" or "needling probes" from by China in vulnerable spots along the LAC. While China is unlikely to try anything in the Doka La area as Indian troops are militarily much better-placed there. However, "the PLA could try something in eastern Ladakh... or eastern Arunachal Pradesh or Lipulekh Pass and Barahoti in the central sector (Himachal-Uttarakhand)," a source told The Times of India.

The report went on to say that India believes that China will not risk a full-fledged war despite a major build-up in its troops in the southern part of the Tibet Military District.

India Today also reported that Indian troops have been asked to remain alert and thwart any discussions by the Chinese. The government has also asked the security agencies to be calm in dealing with the situation to prevent any escalation of the matter.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Aug 17, 2017 15:49 PM

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