At least 20 Indian and 43 Chinese soldiers have died during the “violent face-off” with Chinese troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Galwan Valley in Ladakh, on Monday, confirmed the Indian army. This is the first fatal incident on the disputed border between India and China in more than 40 years.
The Indian soldiers were killed in an extraordinary manner without any shots being fired by the rival army. The site of the clash was on the de-facto border- the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between the two countries. On Tuesday evening, the Indian army confirmed that 17 of those who died were “critically injured in the line of duty at the stand-off location and exposed to sub-zero temperatures in the high-altitude terrain”. Earlier reports had said that three soldiers-including a colonel had been killed.
The Indian MEA has alleged that the face-off was due to China’s attempt to unilaterally change the status-quo in the area. However, China has accused India of crossing the border (Aksai Chin in Ladakh, claimed by China) and attacking its troops. “Indian troops on Monday seriously violated consensus of the two sides by illegally crossing the border twice and carrying out provocative attacks on Chinese soldiers, resulting in serious physical clashes”, the Chinese newspaper, The Global Times quoted the nation’s foreign minister Wang Yi as saying.
There is seen an intense atmosphere of tension past 6 weeks in the Ladakh’s Galwan Valley where India has accused China of sending its troops and occupying 38,000 sq. km. of the Indian territory. In May, dozens of Indian and Chinese soldiers exchanged physical blows on the border in the north-eastern state of Sikkim. In The two countries have only fought once before, on the border issue, in 1962 and since diffused tensions by different means. Earlier in 2017, the two countries clashed in the region after China tried to extend a border road through a disputed plateau.
There can be many reasons why the tensions have escalated now. China’s actions seem to be a response to India’s construction of roads and airstrips adjacent to the LAC, nearby Galwan River, which will improve connectivity and enable easier mobility for Indian troops in the area. The Chinese aggression stems from its claim of the Galwan Valley and there have been protests in Nepal against India ramping up its infrastructure in the area. The road could boost Delhi’s capabilities to move its army in case of a conflict.
The genesis of the crisis is also due to India’s revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir which has angered Pakistan and is expected to make life difficult for China as Ladakh is the route of China to connect to Pakistan and China fears that India might use Ladakh strategically.
In addition, China was unhappy because India initially banned all exports of medical and protective equipment to fill its stocks soon after the Coronavirus pandemic, earlier this year.
Just like the 1962 border face-off where India suffered a humiliating defeat, this challenge is also difficult for India as this conflict is not localised but can be massive, according to experts. Indian soldiers were outnumbered and surrounded when China moved its troops with military arsenals in the area. India has the option of either resolving the issue by dialogue or removing the rival army by force. However, neither options is easy.