China and India have accused each other of firing shots on their disputed border, violating a 1996 no-fire agreement and further escalating military tensions in the Himalayan border region.
Zhang Shuili, a spokesman for the People’s Liberation Army’s Western Theatre Command, said on Tuesday morning that Indian troops had violated an earlier agreement by crossing the disputed western border – the Line of Actual Control (LAC) – at the strategic outpost of Pangong Tso on Monday.
The statement said Chinese troops had been “forced to take an emergency response to stabilise the situation at the scene” – without further elaboration – and demanded India immediately stop its “dangerous action” and withdraw its troops.
Zhang said Indian troops had fired an unspecified number of shots when Chinese troops arrived at the scene. “The action of the Indian side has seriously violated the bilateral agreement and escalated the tension in the region. It is a serious military provocation.”
Hours later, India’s defence ministry denied its soldiers had fired any shots, but accused the Chinese side of opening fire in Monday’s clash. “It was the PLA troops who were attempting to close in with one of our forward positions along the LAC,” according to its statement.
New Delhi said PLA soldiers had fired “a few rounds in the air” in an attempt to intimidate their Indian counterparts. The statement criticised the Chinese troops’ “aggressive manoeuvres”.
“Despite the grave provocation, our troops exercised great restraint and behaved in a mature and responsible manner,” the statement continued, adding that the Indian Army was committed to peace but determined to protect national integrity “at all costs”.
Zhang said Chinese troops were also determined to defend their country’s sovereignty and demanded that India ensured the discipline of its frontline troops. He called for India to launch an investigation into the incident.
China and India signed an agreement in 1996 that neither shall open fire within 2km (1.2 miles) of the LAC. Indian media said Monday’s incident marked the first shot fired since a clash in 1975, which killed four Indian soldiers.
The clash at Pangong Tso was the second in a week and followed a meeting between Chinese and Indian defence ministers in Moscow on Friday.
The worst border dispute between the two countries in four decades has escalated in recent months. A fatal clash in June left 20 Indian soldiers dead and an unknown number of casualties on the Chinese side.
But reports of the June clash described the only weapons involved as sticks and nail-studded clubs, with no mention of any firearms.
Five Indian citizens from Arunachal Pradesh, the northeastern Indian state which borders China, have gone missing, with their families alleging they were abducted by Chinese soldiers.
Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said at an event on Monday that the situation in eastern Ladakh – the region which surrounds the glacier lake of Pangong Tso – was “very serious” and called for “deep conversations between the two sides at the political level,” according to Indian newspaper The Hindu.
In their meeting on the sidelines at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Moscow on Friday, Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe said responsibility for the present tension along the border “rests entirely with the Indian side” and China will defend “every inch of territory,” according to a weekend report by state news agency Xinhua.
In a statement on Saturday, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said the massing of Chinese troops, their “aggressive behaviour” and “attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo” violated bilateral agreements and were not in keeping with the understandings reached between the two sides’ special representatives.
The Indian statement said both Wei and Singh held “frank and in-depth discussions” in their meeting and had agreed to ease tensions.
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