(TibetanReview.net, Dec13’22) – India and China have given conflicting accounts about the cause of a clash over a disputed Himalayan border region across occupied Tibet in the early hours of Dec 9 that left soldiers on both sides with claims of minor injuries. India said the Chinese troops failed to capture a strategic high position they aimed to occupy and were sent scurrying back to their posts.
“PLA (Chinese People’s Liberation Army) troops attempted to unilaterally change the status quo by encroaching on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), in the Yangtse area of Tawang sector,” India’s defence minister, Rajnath Singh, has told parliament today.
“Our army faced this attempt of China with firmness. A scuffle ensued in this face-off. The Indian Army bravely prevented the PLA from encroaching on our territory, and forced them to withdraw to their posts. Some soldiers from both sides were injured in the skirmish,” Reuters Dec 13 quoted Singh as saying.
However, Long Shaohua, a spokesman from the PLA’s Western Theatre Command, has said the clash happened during a regular border patrol when Chinese troops were intercepted by their Indian counterparts, who he has said were “illegally crossing the border”.
“Our troops’ response is professional, firm and standard, which has helped to stabilise the situation,” the scmp.com Dec 13 quoted Long as saying. “Both sides have been under disengagement since then.”
China’s foreign ministry has confirmed the clash, adding, like India, that both sides suffered “minor injuries”.
“According to our knowledge, the situation on the border is generally stable,” Wang Wenbin, a ministry spokesperson, has said in Beijing.
“The two sides have been maintaining smooth communication on border-related issues through diplomatic and military channels.”
Likewise, an Indian Army officer has said, “Both sides immediately disengaged from the area. As a follow up of the incident, own (Indian) commander in the area held a flag meeting with his counterpart to discuss the issue in accordance with structured mechanisms to restore peace and tranquility.”
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The “Chinese had come heavily prepared with around 300 soldiers but didn’t expect Indian side also to be well prepared,” said the ANI news service Dec 12.
The two sides beat each other with sticks and canes in their closest encounter since the deadly Galwan incident in eastern Ladakh in June 2020, said the indianexpress.com Dec 13.
The clash was “more than pushing and shoving”, although it was not clear if there were any serious injuries on either side, the report said.
The Chinese soldiers attacked with spiked clubs and sticks, reported India’s PTI news agency.
Troops from both sides sustained fractured limbs and other injuries in the clash. At least six wounded Indian soldiers were evacuated to the military hospital at Guwahati, reported the timesofindia.com Dec 13.
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The clash occurred at a nullah along the LAC in the Tawang heights near a point called Yangtse in Eastern Tawang. This part of the LAC is one of the “agreed disputed areas” between the two sides, according to military sources.
Indian and Chinese troops are positioned on either side of the nullah, but on this night, some 300 Chinese troops came into the Indian side.
There were no warning signs about the transgression and hearing the sentries being assaulted, some 70 to 80 Indian troops mobilised quickly in the dead of night to push back the intruders, the indianexpress.com report cited sources as saying.
As regards why the clash occurred, the report quoted an Indian military source as saying, “In certain areas along the LAC in the Tawang Sector in Arunachal Pradesh there are areas of differing perception, where both sides patrol the area up to their claim lines. This has been the trend since 2006.”
Yangtse, in particular, has been witnessing frequent face-offs between the rival armies. In October 2021, for instance, the PLA had also tried to gain access to a 17,000-feet peak in Yangtse but were then thwarted by alert Indian soldiers deployed in the area.
Before that, in Jun 2016, around 250 PLA soldiers had transgressed into the area but no clashes were reported then.
A military officer who has served in the area has said there was no predicting when the PLA would carry out such operations as “the Chinese perpetually control the escalatory ladder in that area” and they do so “at a place of their choosing”.
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The latest development comes amid heightened tensions along the LAC since May 2020, when China deployed a large number of troops and heavy equipment to change the status quo in eastern Ladakh. India had made counter deployments in response, leading to a tense military standoff.
The standoff led to clashes in the Galwan valley in Jun 2020. A total of 20 Indian Army personnel were killed while China acknowledged, belatedly, four casualties, although US intelligence and Indian sources at that time suspected that the latter had lost more than 40 soldiers.
China claims that the entire state of Arunachal, including Tawang, is part of “south Tibet” based on its claim on Tibet.
The Tawang clash came days after China expressed objection to Operation Yudhabhyas, an India-US joint military exercise at Auli in the Uttarakhand hills, claiming it was a violation of 1993 and 1996 border agreements, noted the indianexpress.com report.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping met at the G-20 summit in Bali in November and exchanged courtesies but did not hold any substantive talks or discussions.