Tensions increased along the India-China border as both sides accused each other of firing warning shots at their disputed Himalayan boundary, where a military standoff is now in its fifth month.
An Indian army statement denied firing shots and blamed China’s military for “provocative activities” to escalate tensions, while the Chinese foreign ministry said the action is being considered a “serious military provocation.”
Both sides have a longstanding agreement to not use firearms along the border to prevent conflagrations between their troops, who often stand within meters of each other.
The latest face-off occurred along the southern bank of the strategic Pangong Tso Lake, an icy, high altitude lake in Ladakh, where both sides accuse each other of breaching the defacto border known as the “line of actual control.”
The flare-up comes days after the defense ministers of the two countries said they had agreed to work toward defusing tensions along their contested border.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Tuesday that Indian troops had illegally crossed the line of control and were the first to fire shots.
“Indian troops blatantly fired warning shots at our border patrolling troops, who were there for consultation. Our troops were compelled to take measures to stabilize the situation,” Lijian told a news briefing in Beijing. He did not specify what the measures were.
The Indian army denied any transgression into Chinese territory or resorting to any “aggressive means, including firing.”
In a statement, it said that Chinese soldiers had tried to surround an Indian military post and had fired a few shots in the air, when the Indian soldiers “dissuaded” them.
Saying that Indian troops had “exercised great restraint,” the Indian statement accused the Chinese side of blatantly violating agreements and carrying out “aggressive maneuvers while engagement at military, diplomatic and political level is in progress.”
Calling it the first incident of firing along the border in 45 years, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao urged India to “discipline its frontline troops.”
That incident took place on the south side of Pangong Tso Lake a week after the Indian army said it had deterred Chinese troops from occupying an area hilltop, which it says is Indian territory.
“The Indian army thinks it has given enough way to the Chinese and they have to recover ground somewhat and what they now occupy, they will keep,” says Bharat Karnad, a security analyst at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi. “The Indian army is fairly serious that it will simply not budge.”
The military standoff between the two countries began in May after India accused China of intruding across the line of actual control at several points in the high Himalayas. In mid-June, their worst border clash in decades led to the death of 20 Indian soldiers, dealing a serious blow to their decades-long efforts to maintain peace along their undemarcated border.
Since then both sides have held talks at military and diplomatic levels with the aim of disengaging but have failed to make much headway.
The highest level political contact between the two countries took place last Friday when the Indian and Chinese defense ministers met in Moscow on the sidelines of a summit.
After the meeting, New Delhi said in a statement that both sides had agreed that neither side should take action that “could either complicate the situation or escalate matters in the border areas.”
But the situation along their borders continues to be volatile, say analysts.