India and China relations have entered a critical new phase following fresh conflict along their disputed Himalayan border, after multiple rounds of high-level military talks failed to end the monthslong standoff.
The Defense Ministry in New Delhi said on Monday its soldiers were able to stop a push by Chinese troops to claim more ground late Saturday in violation of existing agreements.
Beijing denied its troops had strayed into Indian territory and said it was in close communication with New Delhi, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a daily briefing in Beijing on Monday. “Chinese border troops always strictly abide by the Line of Actual Control,” Zhao said.
The Indian army undermined the consensus reached in previous multilevel talks between the two sides and once again illegally crossed the line on the south bank of Pangong Tso, Senior Colonel Zhang Shuili, spokesman for the Western Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army, said in a statement late Monday evening.
“Such provocation led to tense situations along the border,” Zhang said. “The Indian side’s move has seriously violated China’s territorial sovereignty, severely undermined the peace and stability of the Sino-Indian border area.”
The latest skirmish took place along Pangong Tso — a glacial lake at 4,225 meters (13,861 feet) — along the 3,488 kilometer (2,162 mile) Line of Actual Control. Both India and China have moved thousands of troops, tanks, artillery guns and fighter jets close to the border since their standoff began in May.
The conflict drew comment from U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, who said America was pushing back against China in virtually every domain.
“We’re doing it in the security area. We’re doing it in terms of outsized demands to claim sovereign territory, whether it’s in the Galwan Valley of India on the India-Chinese border, or whether it’s in the South Pacific. We’re also doing it economically,” Biegun said at the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum late Monday.
The number of casualties or captured troops is not yet clear, and while there’s a high-level military meeting in progress to resolve the tensions, India’s military is fully deployed along the disputed border.
“This seems like it will be the new normal,” said Vipin Narang, associate professor in security studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “The Chinese may poke just to force the Indians to defend a huge swath of territory, at great cost to the Indian armed forces and government. This seems to be far from over and India needs to be — and is preparing — for a long haul.”
The fresh attempted incursion by Chinese troops is significant and was not carried out by local commanders alone, said retired Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur, the additional director general of New Delhi-based Centre for Air Power Studies.
“It appears to be a well thought out and deliberate move,” Bahadur said. “China, it appears, is trying to change the alignment of the Line of Actual Control and put further pressure on Indian positions.”
India and China’s worst dispute in four decades culminated in the death of 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers in an ugly battle on June 15.
Since then tensions have continued to simmer, with India revealing in late July it was positioning an additional 35,000 troops along the border as the possibility of an early resolution to the deadly tensions between the two neighbors faded.
Meanwhile, a joint survey launched by the nationalist tabloid Global Times and China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations found more than 70 percent of the nearly 2,000 people surveyed believe that India is being too hostile against China and nearly 90 percent support the government in retaliating strongly against Indian provocations.