Indian and Chinese troops engaged in a violent scuffle on Tuesday morning. The encounter occurred on a section of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that separates the two countries. A few troops reportedly suffered minor injuries.
However, Tuesday’s encounter did not take place in the Doklam area where Indian and Chinese troops are currently facing off. Instead, it unfolded in the remote western sector, on Pangong Tso in Ladakh.
Pangong Tso (Tso means lake in Tibetan) is a narrow strip of deep blue water ringed by bare mountains. One-third of the lake is claimed by India, the remaining two-thirds by China.
Reports vary on minor details, but agree on the broad contours of the incident. The scuffle was either one prolonged incident with two spikes of fighting or a prolonged one that lasted two-three hours from about 6 am to 9 am.
Boat patrols of Indian and Chinese troops encountered each other on Pangong Tso, after the Chinese reportedly strayed into the Indian-controlled section. It is not entirely clear if the confrontation occurred primarily on shore or on the water.
According to The Indian Express’ Sushant Singh, the ‘standoff led to jostling and exchange of blows between soldiers of the two armies although no shots were fired.’
PTI’s account of the incident was similar: ‘After Chinese troopers found their path blocked by Indian soldiers who formed a human chain, they began hurling stones, prompting a swift retaliation by Indian border guards.’
The Indian personnel involved were apparently from the ITBP. ‘Soldiers of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police which patrols the border along with the army carried a flag that said in Chinese, “This area belongs to us please go back” but the Chinese soldiers refused,’ reported NDTV, citing anonymous sources.
According to one report, six Indians were injured.
Singh also cited sources that said ‘52 trucks of the Chinese army were later spotted parked on the road built by the Chinese on the side of the lake but they moved out by the evening.’
Some accounts say the encounter(s) took place near Finger 6, others maintain that they occurred around Finger 4 and Finger 5. (The ‘Fingers’ in question are prominent spurs that run down from the adjoining mountains to the shores of the lake.)
The standoff ended after both sides, as per custom, held up banners indicating they were returning to their previous positions.
Officers from the two sides appear to have spoken with each other during a flag meeting on Wednesday afternoon, though there is no word yet on what progress, if any, was made.
A Tense Independence Day
Tuesday’s incident, significantly, took place on Independence Day. For the first time since 2005, Chinese officers did not attend any of the celebrations that normally take place at five locations along the boundary between the two countries. The Chinese also did not invite their Indian counterparts for PLA Day celebrations on August 1.
At present, both sides are playing down the incident. Defence minister Arun Jaitley refused to comment on the confrontation when asked on Wednesday. And a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry Hu Chunying disavowed any knowledge of what happened in Ladakh, saying, ‘I am not aware of the information.’
However, the incident on Independence Day has only raised the stakes in the Doklam standoff. As this blog reported previously, many in India were expecting a Chinese retaliation at other spots along the LAC. A military intelligence assessment accessed by India Today seems to concur. Tuesday’s confrontation ‘appears to be [a] deliberate attempt to provoke and heighten tension without use of lethal weapons,’ the assessment said, according to India Today.
Today is the 61st day of the Doklam standoff.