Multiple reports over the last two months allege that Indian and Chinese forces have either briefly clashed or faced-off in early May before disengaging along their disputed Himalayan border.
Chinese and Indian troops allegedly clashed across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh on May 2, according to a source in an article published in the Business Standard today.
The development was reported by Ajai Shukla, a retired Indian Colonel who covers South Asian security and defence affairs.
According to Shukla’s source, “there was a confrontation when the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers set up a tent at the bend in the Galwan River, near PP (Patrolling Point) 14. India demanded it be removed, as it was in the buffer area that both sides had agreed to.”
If true, it would have come hardly a year after a skirmish took place in Galwan Valley on June 15, which left twenty Indian soldiers and at least four Chinese troops dead and saw tensions escalate rapidly between New Delhi and Beijing.
The Indian Army has denied Shukla’s account and “strongly rebutted” the claims made in the article, saying it was “riddled with inaccuracies and misinformation.”
“Ever since the disengagement agreement in February this year, there has been no attempt by either side to occupy the areas from where the dis-engagement had been undertaken. There have been no clashes in Galwan or any other area,” the Army added in a statement.
On May 23, one of India's leading newspapers The Hindu reported a minor face-off” between Indian and Chinese troops in Galwan Valley during the first week of May, according to a senior government official. No clashes were believed to have occurred and a swift disengagement proceeded.
The official added that China has camps beyond the no-patrolling zone that was instituted following the June 15 clash, and that there had not been any reduction in troop deployment since last year.
Responding to The Hindu’s report, the Indian Army had denied any face-off had taken place. It claimed the government source was “trying to derail the ongoing process for early resolution of issues in eastern Ladakh”.
There have also been reports that on July 6, Chinese troops entered Indian territory for around 30 minutes. On that day, Tibetans were celebrating the birthday of the Dalai Lama and similar celebrations were being held in eastern Ladakh. Video footage shows Chinese troops in five vehicles crossed over to the Indian side of the LAC in objection to the celebrations.
India and China have been locked in a dispute over eastern Ladakh since the Galwan incident occurred in June 2020, having held almost a dozen rounds of military talks to resolve the friction points between the two sides since then.
Starting in May 2020, the PLA launched several near-simultaneous incursions across the LAC in the mountainous Himalayan region of Ladakh, into territory customarily controlled by India. Both sides reinforced their positions with tens of thousands of troops and built infrastructure to sustain a long-term presence lasting through the winter.
For months, China showed no signs of reversing its position, and the situation after the deadly June 15 clashes continued to be fraught as tanks from both sides faced one another on several instances.
In September 2020, the Indian and Chinese foreign ministers struck an in-principle agreement to disengage, but it would not progress anywhere until February 2021, when a phased disengagement plan was announced.
Propelled by New Delhi’s sharpened threat perception of Beijing, India has deepened its commitment to the quadrilateral collation (Quad) with the US, Japan and Australia, a coalition that aims to counter Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific theatre.
The standoff last year has also spurred India to accelerate construction of roads, bridges and tunnels in the Ladakh region to facilitate quicker movement of troops to the border.
For New Delhi, the border dispute is at the heart of Sino-Indian relations and has created a new strategic reality that is likely to define its competition with Beijing moving forward.