The Indian army has said that at least 20 soldiers have been killed in a stand-off with Chinese forces.
This follows escalating tensions between the two nations over the disputed border in the Western Himalayas, and marks the biggest armed conflict between the world’s two most populous countries since another border skirmish in 1975.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the Indian army claimed that 20 soldiers had been critically injured and eventually died from their wounds.
“[The troops were killed] in the line of duty at the stand-off location and exposed to sub-zero temperatures in the high altitude terrain … taking the total that were killed in action to 20”, the statement said, according to Al Jazeera. And while the forces have disengaged, India has vowed to “protect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the nation”.
This 3,500 square kilometre region has regularly been a source of flaring tensions between the two nations and has never been truly demarcated, but thousands of troops, artillery and armoured trucks have been caught in a stand-off since May in the Ladakh region, bordering Tibet.
India claims that China has crossed the border in three different areas, ignoring verbal warnings and erecting temporary bases. Meanwhile, China has accused India of crossing the border twice. Negotiations over a settlement agreement have been ongoing, but have yet to yield any breakthroughs.
Chinese Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian has accused India of “provoking and attacking Chinese personnel, resulting in serious physical confrontation between border forces on the two sides”.
“We again solemnly request that India follows the relevant attitude and restrains its front line troops,” he said, according to an AFP report. “Do not cross the border, do not provoke trouble, do not take any unilateral action that would complicate the border situation.”
Former Indian army commander D S Hooda emphasised the significance of the dispute, saying “This is extremely, extremely serious, this is going to vitiate whatever dialogue was going on,” according to Al Jazeera.
Another major factor to take into account is Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s relationship with US President Donald Trump, who he may call on for support if the dispute escalates further. China and the United States are currently engaged in a trade war and their stand-off over the course of the Trump presidency has represented the most significant geopolitical contest in years.
It is thought that China’s dispute with India has more to do with infrastructure than borders. however.India is looking to improve connectivity with new roads and airfields, threatening to narrow the gap and compete with China’s complex infrastructure network.