Indian and Chinese troops were injured in a fresh clash on their disputed Himalayan border last week, senior officials said in New Delhi on Tuesday.
The incident—another melee with fists instead of firearms—took place at a point called Yangtse in the Tawang region of Arunachal Pradesh, a state at India’s eastern tip, claimed by China as part of Tibet.
Rajnath Singh, India’s defense minister, told the country’s parliament that Chinese soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army tried to “unilaterally change the status quo” by crossing the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on December 9. “The Chinese attempt was contested by our troops in a firm and resolute manner,” said Singh.
“The ensuing face-off led to a physical scuffle in which the Indian Army bravely prevented the PLA from transgressing into our territory and compelled them to return to their posts. The scuffle led to injuries to a few personnel on both sides.”
The LAC is a 2,100-mile frontier that has been contested by the Asian neighbors for decades since they fought a war over the region in 1962. Seasonal changes to rivers, lakes and snow-capped mountains mean the already poorly demarcated border can shift, leading to close encounters between Indian and Chinese patrols asserting overlapping territorial claims.
Local commanders from both sides held talks on Sunday “to discuss the issue in accordance with established mechanisms,” Singh said, referring to channels that have facilitated over a dozen rounds of dialogue since tensions escalated once more in May 2020.
“The Chinese side was asked to refrain from such actions and maintain peace and tranquility along the border. The issue has also been taken up with the Chinese side through diplomatic channels,” said India’s defense chief.
Wang Wenbin, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, told a regular press briefing that conditions along the border were “generally stable,” in what was Beijing’s first public acknowledgment of the clash. He urged New Delhi to help jointly “uphold the peace and tranquility” of the border region.
Official interventions from both sides were light on details, but Tapir Gao, a member of India’s ruling BJP, told Britain’s Telegraph newspaper that 20 Indian troops were injured, six seriously. His comments appeared to contradict Singh’s statement about “no fatalities or serious casualties” on the Indian side.
The border clash at Yangtse broke out at 3 a.m. and involved some 300 Chinese and up to 80 Indian soldiers, an Indian Express report said on Tuesday. Hand-to-hand combat with sticks and canes lasted several hours, the paper said.
The latest fisticuffs roughly 10 miles south of the LAC were the most serious between the nuclear-armed giants since 20 Indian border guards and at least four Chinese troops were killed in a violent skirmish in Galwan Valley, the first fatal confrontation in 45 years. China didn’t disclose its casualties until eight months after the fact.
The ravine lies in India-controlled Ladakh in the east, an area China claims as Aksai Chin, part of its northwestern Xinjiang region. Some 16 rounds of talks have seen forces from both sides slowly disengage from hotspots along the LAC, the latest involving troop withdrawals from Gogra in eastern Ladakh in September.
However, tensions remain over the respective building of permanent infrastructure at contested points, as well as over long-term troop deployments in the surrounding regions.