China and India Accuse Each Other of Firing First Shots over Border in 45 Years

Indian military personnel guard Bumla pass on the India-China border, in north-eastern Arunachal Pradesh state
AFP/Biju Boro

The Communist Party of China accused the Indian military of firing shots across their mutual border on Tuesday, a claim New Delhi refuted, instead accusing China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of firing their weapons.

The shooting – which both sides appear to agree occurred – if confirmed would be the first across the Chinese-Indian border in 45 years.

Tensions between China and India on their border escalated significantly in June, when their militaries clashed following a discussion between a ranking Indian serviceman and PLA soldiers. That incident – in India’s Galwan Valley, Ladakh region – resulted in the deaths of at least 20 Indian soldiers and an unconfirmed number of Chinese troops; India claims as many as twice the number of Chinese died as Indians. As neither side allows soldiers to use firearms in disputes, the troops fought using rocks, barbed wire, sticks, and their bare hands.

Following the Galwan Valley incident, the Indian military changed the decades-old rules of engagement banning the presence of firearms on the border, allowing shooting in cases where the Chinese attack first.

On Tuesday, the PLA’s Western Theater Command accused India of acting on the new rules of engagement.

“During the operation, the Indian army blatantly fired threats to the patrol personnel of the Chinese border guards who had made representations,” a spokesman for the Western Theater, Senior Colonel Zhang Shuili, said, according to the Times of India. “The Chinese border guards were forced to take countermeasures to stabilize the situation.”

“The Indian side’s move seriously violated related agreements reached by both sides, stirred up tensions in the region, and would easily cause misunderstandings and misjudgments, which is a serious military provocation and is very vile in nature,” Zhang asserted. “We demand the Indian side to immediately stop dangerous moves, withdraw personnel who crossed the LAC at once, strictly control frontline troops, seriously investigate and punish the personnel who fired the provocative shot and ensure similar incidents won’t take place again.”

Zhang said the shooting occurred near Pangong Tso, a lake that straddles the China-India border at Ladakh and occupied Tibet. Indian troops established a new base on a mountaintop overlooking Pangong Tso last week, claiming they had done so after preventing the PLA from doing the same. China called the move an invasion and demanded the Indian soldiers vacate the premises, which they have not yet done.

China’s Foreign Ministry similarly condemned the Indian military.

“It was the Indian side that fired first in the Monday incident in which Indian troops again illegally crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) of the China-India border and outrageously fired warning shots at Chinese border defense patrol personnel who were attempting to negotiate,” the Chinese state-run Global Times propaganda outlet paraphrased spokesman Zhao Lijian as saying on Tuesday.
In a column published Tuesday, the Global Times declared that a “new era of bloodshed” would soon begin between the two countries, blaming India exclusively for the predicted violence.

“Indian side has recently behaved arrogantly over border [sic] issue. Moreover, public opinion in India shows no restraints,” the Global Times asserted. “We must warn India seriously: You have crossed the line! Your frontline troops have crossed the line! Your nationalist public opinion has crossed the line! Your policy toward China has crossed the line! You are over-confidently provoking the PLA and Chinese people – this is like doing a handstand on the edge of a cliff!”

India’s Ministry of Defense responded to this public onslaught by denying that Indian troops had shot any firearms on the border, claiming instead that it was the PLA that had broken the nearly half-century-old consensus.

“India, [which] is committed to disengagement and de-escalating the situation on the LAC, China continues to undertake provocative activities to escalate. At no stage has the Indian Army transgressed across the LAC or resorted to use of any aggressive means, including firing,” a statement from India’s Ministry of Defense read, according to India’s News 18.

“In the instant case on September 7, 2020, it was the PLA troops who were attempting to close-in with one of our forward positions along the LAC [mutual border] and when dissuaded by own troops, PLA troops fired a few rounds in the air in an attempt to intimidate own troops,” the Defense Ministry asserted. “However, despite the grave provocation, [our] own troops exercised great restraint and behaved in a mature and responsible manner.”

India’s Ministry of External Affairs noted in its response to the current controversy that the Global Times, among other Chinese government propaganda outlets, had published fabricated quotes by senior Indian national security officials, condemning the move.

The dispute follows the Indian army’s occupation of the Pangong Tso mountaintop last week, which China rejected as a categorical invasion of an area it has branded “South Tibet” (India claims the mountain is in Ladakh). Indian officials also insisted the move was necessary to prevent a repeat of the Galwan Valley incident. On that occasion, Indian troops approached Chinese soldiers after they had established tents and surveillance equipment on Indian land, resulting in the PLA forces attacking. Indian military officials said they intercepted PLA troops approaching the Pangong Tso mountaintop carrying tents and surveillance equipment but that they had not established themselves yet, describing their decision to organize a camp there “preemptive.”

The Times of India reported on Tuesday that India had moved as many as 3,000 troops – “heavily armed with rocket launches, anti-tank guided missiles and other weapons” – have moved onto the disputed mountain. Zee News, another Indian outlet, added the detail that Indian troops had surrounded the peak with barbed wire to keep Chinese troops out. Zee News cited unnamed sources and “information” to make its claim, however, making it difficult to confirm.

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