Chinese and Indian soldiers have clashed along their disputed Himalayan border in a dangerous new escalation between Asia’s two most populous countries.
Indian media outlets report soldiers on both sides were wounded after they engaged in hand-to-hand combat in the mountainous Sikkim region, which borders Bhutan, Tibet and Nepal.
Details remain foggy but reports suggest more than 20 Chinese and five Indian soldiers were injured.
India Today reports Indian soldiers challenged Chinese troops who were trying to cross the border at Naku La in North Sikkim.
The outlet described the clash as a “thrashing” and said the Indian troops forced their Chinese counterparts back.
A spokesman for the Indian Army described it as a “minor clash” and said it was resolved by local commanders as per established protocols.
China’s foreign ministry, however, said it had “no information” on the incident.
Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Chinese troops “dedicated themselves to safeguarding the peace and tranquillity” of the border region.
In May last year, soldiers from China and India – armed with sticks and other weapons – engaged in a brutal fighting near the Galwan River in Ladakh.
The clash resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers, including an officer.
There were also reportedly at least 43 Chinese casualties, including the death of an officer.
A number of the Indian troops killed were to receive posthumous gallantry awards on Republic Day on Tuesday, including patrol leader Colonel Santosh Babu, who was awarded the country’s second-highest medal for bravery, the Mahavir Chakra.
China’s defence ministry said in a joint statement with its Indian counterparts released later on Monday that the ninth round of disengagement talks – which have been held since mid-last year – were “positive”, but did not address the latest incident.
China and India fought a border war in 1962. Since then there have been various agreements to keep peace along the Line of Actual Control but the area is still volatile. The two countries blame each other for the increased tensions and each has poured tens of thousands of extra troops into border zones.
India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said last month that relations between the neighbours had been “significantly damaged” by events of the past year.
India is also wary of China’s moves to extend its diplomatic muscle into South Asia through massive investment schemes.
The government has sought to block Chinese companies from getting deals in India, banning more than 150 Chinese apps made by its tech giants.
A source in the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said the bans were initially temporary, but had been since made permanent, with the government saying the developers did not address its security and privacy concerns.
Chinese products are being halted in customs logjams at Indian ports.
China has in turn warned that India will suffer economically from the dispute.
Harsh Pant, a professor of international relations at King’s College in London, said the Sikkim brawl showed “there is a real stalemate on the border”.
He said Beijing was “looking for different pressure points” in the region.
On a broader level, Mr Pant said the Himalayas were “just another theatre in the larger global picture for Beijing”.
“It is testing the waters with the new administration of US President Joe Biden. Earlier it used to be just Taiwan or South China Sea but now even the Himalayas (with India) are a part of that.
“They want to see how the Biden administration will react on these multiple fronts simultaneously or individually.”
– with wires