India says at least three of its soldiers have died in a “violent” clash with Chinese troops at a section along their unmarked border high in the Himalayas, in the first fatalities resulting from skirmishes in the region in four decades.
There were “casualties on both sides,” Indian army spokesman Col. Aman Anand said in New Delhi Tuesday, adding that officials were meeting to defuse the situation. The dead on the Indian side include an officer and two soldiers, Anand said, adding that no firing took place during the encounter. He gave no other details.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Tuesday he didn’t have information on the violent face-off that led to the killing of the three Indian soldiers. But he said two Indian soldiers had illegally crossed into Chinese territory twice on June 15 in a “serious violation” of the consensus reached earlier between the two countries.
“They provoked and attacked the Chinese side, leading to a severe physical brawl. China has lodged protests and representations to the Indian side,” Zhao said. “China demands the Indian side restrict front line soldiers and avoid unilateral moves that will complicate the border situation.”
The sudden escalation in geopolitical risk dented investor sentiment. The S&P BSE Sensex of stocks gave up gains of as much as 2.4% to trade 1.2% higher at 3:15 p.m in Mumbai. The yield on the most traded 6.45% 2029 bond rose by five basis point to 6.03%, while the rupee depreciated 0.2% to 76.2125 per dollar. Local gold futures rose about 1% after the report of the clash, even as global prices of the bullion were little changed.
For more than six weeks now soldiers from both sides have been engaged in a stand-off at least two locations along the Line of Actual Control — the 3,488 kilometer (2,167 mile) unmarked boundary between India and China, and have rushed additional troops to the border.
They have been facing each other at the Galwan River, which was one of the early triggers of the 1962 India-China war, and at the disputed Pangong Tso — a glacial lake at 14,000 feet in the Tibetan plateau, portions of which are claimed by both.
The latest escalation comes even as talks between officials of the two armies and at the diplomatic level have been ongoing to ease the soaring tensions.
“The situation is quite grave and dangerous now,” said Sun Shihai, director of the China Center for South Asian Studies in Sichuan University. “In the past such conflicts had led to severe injuries from both sides, but deaths could be a potential game changer, as such incidents will spark nationalistic emotions from both countries.”
Without intervention from higher level officials, front line troops could get out of control and further escalate the situation, Sun said.
Although both India and China have touted this as one of the most stable borders, it’s clear the rancor at local level is high, said Harsh Pant, who teaches international relations at Kings College in London. “For China its easy to control information. But India being a democracy, tensions will run high and there will be questions from people and the opposition. So some kind of escalation will happen.”
It’s not clear yet what New Delhi is likely to do and what Beijing’s response will be, he added.
“Whether the Indian side cancel the scheduled Russia-India-China meeting on June 22, will need to be seen,” Pant said. “China has traditionally tried to save face if there were such summits planned during the time of border tensions. It will need to be seen if China will want to save face again.”
(Updates with markts in 5th paragraph, China analyst comment in 9th paragraph)
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