India says troops had 'minor face-off' with China in Sikkim border area

Published January 25, 2021
In this file photo taken on July 10, 2008 a Chinese soldier gestures as he stands near an Indian soldier on the Chinese side of the ancient Nathu La border crossing between India and China. — AFP
In this file photo taken on July 10, 2008 a Chinese soldier gestures as he stands near an Indian soldier on the Chinese side of the ancient Nathu La border crossing between India and China. — AFP

Indian and Chinese troops were involved in another brawl on their contested Himalayan border, leaving injuries on both sides, military officials said on Monday.

The fighting on January 20 came six months after a pitched battle which left at least 20 Indian troops dead as well as an unknown number of Chinese casualties.

The world's two most populous nations have since become embroiled in a diplomatic showdown over their geographical and political differences.

The Indian military played down the latest skirmish as a “minor face-off” at Naku La pass, which connects Sikkim state with Tibet on the Chinese side.

A short statement said the tensions were “resolved by local commanders as per established protocols”. Four Indian troops were injured when a Chinese patrol was forced back, government sources said.

They added that China's People's Liberation Army suffered an unknown number of casualties.

Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said he didn’t have anything to offer on the incident but urged India to exercise restraint.

“I would like to stress though that China’s border troops are committed to upholding peace and tranquillity along the border with India. We urge the Indian side to work in the same direction as us and refrain from actions that might escalate or complicate the situation along the border,” he told a regular news briefing.

“We hope both sides will take proper actions to manage their differences and take concrete actions to safeguard peace and stability along the border.”

The incident has highlighted the increasingly fraught state of India-China relations. Details were released on the eve of India's Republic Day, when the country shows off its latest military hardware at a parade in the capital.

Hand-to-hand fighting between 150 soldiers from the two sides at Naku La in May last year set off the latest frontier tensions between the world's two most populous nations.

About 10 troops from each side suffered injuries and a series of other incidents followed.

In June, troops from the two sides fought with fists and wooden clubs in the Galwan valley of Ladakh region, leaving dozens dead. China has never confirmed it suffered fatalities.

China and India, who fought a border war in 1962, blame each other for the increased tensions and each has poured tens of thousands of extra troops into border zones.

The latest de-escalation talks between military commanders were held on Sunday but there have been no signs that either side is ready to back down.

India's Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said last month that relations between the neighbours had been “significantly damaged” by the events of the past year.

India is also wary of China's moves to extend its diplomatic muscle into South Asia through massive investment schemes.

The government has sought to block Chinese companies from getting deals in India, banning more than 150 Chinese apps made by its tech giants.

Chinese products are being halted in customs logjams at Indian ports. China has in turn warned that India will suffer economically from the dispute.

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