The Indian military reported that three of its soldiers were killed in the Himalayas on Monday night during a “violent faceoff” with Chinese troops. Chinese officials said five of their soldiers were killed and blamed Indian forces for crossing the border and provoking the conflict.
According to the Indian army, the conflict broke out in the Galwan Valley, where India has been building a strategically valuable road that will connect to an airstrip. China views Indian infrastructure projects as challenges to the balance of power in the contested region, leading to periodic scuffles between the thousands of Indian and Chinese troops massed along the border.
The Times of India described Monday night’s clash as a “massive escalation in the ongoing troop confrontation” in the eastern Ladakh region. The battle was fought with “rods and stones,” leading to “casualties on both sides.”
“The loss of lives on the Indian side includes an officer and two soldiers. Senior military officials of the two sides are currently meeting at the venue to defuse the situation,” the Indian army stated.
An Indian army officer told AFP there was no gunfire during the incident, just “violent hand-to-hand scuffles.”
India has complained on several occasions about Chinese troops violating the border, and even trying to move the border by establishing fortifications on the Indian side. In this incident, the Chinese Foreign Ministry claims Indian troops crossed the border twice on Monday for “illegal activities,” during which they “provoked and attacked Chinese personnel, which led to serious physical conflict between the two sides.”
Sky News reported on Tuesday morning that while the Chinese government has not officially reported any casualties yet, “reports are emerging” that five Chinese soldiers were killed in the conflict.
AFP noted that Indian and Chinese diplomats seemed “conciliatory” over the past few weeks, following another fist- and rock-fight that resulted in injuries but no fatalities. The conciliatory tone began to fade in recent days when India noticed the Chinese were not withdrawing any of their forces from the disputed Galwan Valley and Pangong Tso lake areas.
A former Indian ambassador to China told AFP the relationship between India and China has reached an “extremely worrisome juncture” with Monday night’s hostilities, which appear to have inflicted the first fatalities between Indian and Chinese troops in the region in over four decades.
India and China fought a war over the region in 1962. According to recent reports, in addition to massing troops along the border, both sides have moved artillery into position.