A soldier with India’s special forces was reportedly killed over the weekend amid recent clashes with Chinese border troops as tensions between the two nations seethe over their shared border in the Himalayas.
The continued clashes between two of Asia’s strongest nuclear-armed powers has fueled concerns over the possibility of a broader military confrontation between the two countries, as well as the threat of greater economic instability in the region and the globe.
China has accused Indian troops of illegally crossing into Chinese territory in the Himalayas on Monday, mere months after the world’s two most populous nations engaged in brutal clashes that claimed the lives of soldiers on both sides.
On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that “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 deescalation of tensions on the ground.”
“The responsibility rests entirely with the Indian side,” Hua added. “China has exercised great restraint to prevent the situation from escalating.”
India, on the other hand, hasn’t commented on the reported death of the soldier, who is of Tibetan origin. The death was reported by Namgyal Dolkar Lhagyari, a member of the Tibetan Parliament in exile based in India, who told AFP that the Tibetan-origin member of the Special Frontier Force was “martyred during the clash” on Saturday night.
Chinese diplomats have denied that any Indian troops have died in the latest tensions.
At the heart of the tensions is the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the 2,100-mile (3,379 km) de facto border dividing the two states. Both countries have a range of disagreements about the most basic facts concerning the border, which is largely a result of clashes that have roiled the region since the 19th century, when colonial powers Russia and Britain fought to wrest land from a weakened China.
The LAC itself is the result of the Sino-Indian border war of 1962, which resulted in a humiliating defeat for India at the hands of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
India has also continued to challenge Chinese control over Tibet, with New Delhi providing shelter to figures including the Tibetan Parliament in exile and Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing sees as a separatist tool of foreign powers opposed to China.
Indian defense officials claim that in the most recent flare-up, Chinese troops “carried out provocative military movements to change the status quo.” China’s PLA, in the meantime, has claimed that India was “seriously violating China’s territorial sovereignty”
According to Indian media reports, military sources claim that PLA forces attempted to seize hilltops claimed by India, but its troops “undertook measures to strengthen our positions and thwart Chinese intentions to unilaterally change facts on ground.”
Chinese media have India of provoking the fight to divert attention from its domestic failures.
“India’s habitual boasts about its military strength, fabrication of victories and cover-ups of its provocations in recent border clashes with Chinese troops, which arise from its domestic need to divert public attention from its government’s failure to improve the economy and contain COVID-19, make the whole world question its sincerity in maintaining the stability of the border area,” read a Wednesday editorial from hawkish Chinese newspaper Global Times.
Other semi-official voices in China have been dismissive toward any threat posed by India, brushing off the country as far less capable militarily and acting at the behest of foreign powers like the United States.
“India’s provocations along the border with China and the subsequent deterioration of bilateral relations will please those countries which have instigated India to act as a pawn in their strategy to contain China,” read an editorial from state-backed China Daily on Tuesday. “But India should never expect to get substantial support from them should India’s continuous provocations spark a war with China.”
Physical confrontations between troops on both sides have been a regular occurrence over the decades, although the clashes typically take the form of jostling and shoving, rarely escalating to the point of armed clashes.
On June 15, however, soldiers from both sides fought a fierce skirmish using fists and blunt objects such as wooden clubs, marking the sharpest clashes between the two neighbors in over 50 years. While India acknowledges that 20 of its troops died in the clash, China hasn’t given any figures on casualties but has acknowledged that there have been losses. Some Indian media, however, claimed that 43 Chinese soldiers died.
Since then, tens of thousands of troops have been sent by both sides to reinforce the region while negotiations between Indian and Chinese officials floundered. In the meantime, media figures on both sides have further stoked tensions with nationalist calls to maintain a confrontational position.
India has also banned some 50 Chinese-owned apps, such as popular video platform TikTok, while also holding up Chinese goods at customs posts and freezing Chinese firms out of contracts.
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