Indian and Chinese troops clash on disputed border

Indian and Chinese soldiers have clashed on their disputed border in India’s north-eastern territory of Arunachal Pradesh, the first such incident between the two Asian powers since fatal frontier confrontations in 2020.

A person briefed on an Indian account of the incident said soldiers on both sides sustained “minor injuries” in the incident, which occurred in the mountainous Tawang area on Friday but was first reported by Indian media on Monday.

The 3,500km Sino-Indian border has remained tense since 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers were reported killed in fighting on the frontier of India’s far north-western territory of Ladakh in spring 2020.

Despite dozens of rounds of high-level military talks, Asia’s two most populous countries remain in a diplomatic stand-off, with India refusing to resume normal relations with Beijing unless it scales back its military presence in the frontier zones.

The person familiar with an account of the incident said both armed forces disengaged “immediately” and that Chinese and Indian commanders afterwards held a de-escalatory “flag meeting”. China’s foreign ministry did not make any immediate comment on the reports of the incident.

Exact details of what sparked the clash are still unclear, but both forces generally patrol the border only lightly armed to reduce the risk of escalation.

Sushant Singh, senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, said the Tawang region was “extremely sensitive for Chinese diplomats” since Beijing considered the entire area to be part of Tibet and claimed it as its territory.

“In the past few months and few years, the Chinese have also moved forces and built infrastructure opposite Arunachal Pradesh, including Tawang,” said Singh, adding that there had been a greater Chinese build-up of troops in recent months. “It was always expected in some sense that it could be the next flashpoint.”

After the 2020 fighting in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley, India reinforced its military presence in the area. But Singh said India’s military was “aware that the major weaknesses lay in Arunachal Pradesh, both in terms of infrastructure and military deployment”.

After the 2020 fighting, India banned hundreds of Chinese mobile apps in retaliation. Indian tax and financial enforcement authorities have also since stepped up actions against Chinese mobile phone companies, which dominate the Indian market.

India is part of security dialogues with the US, Australia and Japan, which are also opposed to China’s increasing military presence in the Asia-Pacific region. In the past few weeks, China has objected to joint US-Indian military exercises being held about 100km from the border.

Disagreements between China and India over the border between them go back decades and in 1962 the two countries fought a one-month war in what New Delhi considers part of its north-eastern territories.

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