Minor injuries were reported on Saturday when about 150 Indian and Chinese troops engaged in a confrontation on the border between India’s Sikkim state and China.
The Indian military said soldiers on both sides engaged in “aggressive behavior” that led to an exchange of punches and thrown rocks, but evidently not any gunfire.
Reuters noted that Indian and Chinese soldiers have been glaring at each other across the contested border since 1962, but direct physical conflict is rare.
The most noteworthy previous scuffle occurred in 2017 when a few hundred troops from both sides assembled on the Doklam plateau in the Himalayas for a brawl over China’s construction of a road that India saw as a threat to the region’s independence. When India began building a road of its own, angry Chinese troops assembled to criticize the decision, and a rock-throwing melee broke out.
Roughly the same thing happened in North Sikkim on Saturday, for reasons that were not immediately clear. The Hindu said one reason for clashes between Indian and Chinese border patrols is that the border is not well-marked, and each side becomes angry if it believes troops from the other have violated its territory. The Indian military claims Chinese forces have violated the border over a thousand times since 2016.
The Times of India reported there were “at least two incidents of violent clashes and stone-pelting” over the past week.
While both India and China have dispatched more troops to reinforce their presence in the area, both sides downplayed the dangers of escalation. The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not acknowledge the incident at all on Monday, while the Indian military said the two sides “disengaged after dialogue and interaction at the local level” and did not appear overly concerned about the danger of further violence.
Dawn.com quoted Indian Army commander General Manoj Naravane remarking in January that “small differences are sorted locally and not allowed to escalate,” in accordance with “strategic guidelines” worked out between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese dictator Xi Jinping. That sounds like both sides agreeing to let their soldiers work off steam with a little brawl every now and then, provided no one draws a gun.