Border Dispute: India-China tensions rise amid reports of abduction

File photo of an Indian and Chinese soldier on the border
India and China have a long history of border disputes

Tensions are rising between Delhi and Beijing amid reports that Chinese troops kidnapped five Indian civilians in a border state last week. The allegation was first tweeted on 5 September by an Indian lawmaker from Arunachal Pradesh state. An Indian cabinet minister has since said that a “hotline message” has been sent to the Chinese army. China it yet to respond, but the allegation is likely to further escalate tensions between the nations. The state lawmaker, Tapir Gao, tweeted that the alleged abduction happened on 3 September near the border. He did not give more details. When a journalist asked cabinet minister Kiren Rijiju about the reports on Twitter, he said the Indian army was waiting to hear from their Chinese counterparts. The abduction allegation comes in the wake of rising tensions between the neighbours. India accused China of provoking military tensions at the border twice within one week in August.

Both charges were denied by Beijing. Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh met his Chinese counterpart in Moscow on 5 September, but what was meant to be an icebreaker soon turned into a war of words. China said that the border stand-off was “entirely” India’s fault, and that it will not lose “an inch of its territory”. And India accused the Chinese of “amassing of large number of troops, aggressive behaviour and attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo”. While there has been no fresh violence, minor skirmishes have been reported with analysts describing the situation at the border as fluid since June. Deadly clashes in June between troops on both sides left 20 Indian soldiers dead. There were unconfirmed reports of Chinese casualties. Both countries regularly accuse each other of instigating the fight in the Himalayan region of Ladakh by crossing the border, a poorly demarcated line that snakes through the inhospitable terrain.

Despite several rounds of military and diplomatic talks, the nuclear-armed neighbours have failed to resolve their border disputes.

Indian army convoy carrying reinforcements and supplies, drive towards Leh, on a highway bordering China.
India has been sending reinforcements to the border

Media reports said troops clashed on ridges at a height of nearly 4,300m (14,000ft) on steep terrain, with some Indian soldiers falling into the fast-flowing Galwan river in sub-zero temperatures. At least 76 Indian soldiers were reportedly injured in addition to the 20 dead. China has not released any information about casualties on its side. The fighting took place without any firearms because of a 1996 agreement barring guns and explosives from the area.

The Line of Actual Control, as the disputed border between the two nations is known, is poorly demarcated. The presence of rivers, lakes and snowcaps mean the line can shift. The soldiers on either side – representing two of the world’s largest armies – come face to face at many points. India has accused China of sending thousands of troops into Ladakh’s Galwan valley and says China occupies 38,000sq km (14,700sq miles) of its territory. Several rounds of talks in the last three decades have failed to resolve the boundary disputes. The two countries have fought only one war so far, in 1962, when India suffered a humiliating defeat.

Military personnel on China-India border
India has expedited the construction of roads along its border with China

There are several reasons why tensions have risen recently – but competing strategic goals lie at the root, and both sides blame each other. India’s new road in what experts say is the most remote and vulnerable area along the border in Ladakh could boost Delhi’s capability to move men and materiel rapidly in case of a conflict. Analysts say India’s decision to ramp up infrastructure seems to have infuriated Beijing.

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