NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR—India’s army said on June 16 that 20 of its soldiers had been killed in clashes with Chinese troops at a disputed border site, in a major escalation of a weeks-long standoff between the two Asian giants in the western Himalayas.
China’s foreign ministry confirmed there had been a “violent physical confrontation” on June 15 in the border area. It made no mention of casualties, but India’s foreign ministry said there had been casualties on both sides.
An Indian government source said the troops had fought with iron rods and stones, and that no shots had been fired.
The deaths were the first since the last major border clash in 1967 between the nuclear-armed neighbors—also the world’s two most-populous countries—which have been unable to settle the dispute along their lengthy frontier.
China and India have traded accusations over who was to blame for the June 15 clashes in the snow deserts of Ladakh, which came after military commanders held meetings to resolve the situation.
Since early May, hundreds of soldiers have fronted up against each other at three locations, each side accusing the other of trespassing.
During the recent conflict, the Chinese have erected 80 to 100 tents, brought in heavy vehicles and heavy weapons, and have started building bunkers in the Galwan Valley.
The Chinese regime’s act of building bunkers is a tactic it has used with other countries it shares borders with, Aparna Pande, a research fellow and director of Hudson Institute’s Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia in Washington, previously told The Epoch Times.
On the night of June 15, a group of soldiers came to blows in the Galwan Valley, the Indian army said in a statement, adding that the two sides had now disengaged.
The two sides had been discussing ways to de-escalate but at some point, an Indian government source said, China’s People’s Liberation Army had turned on a group of Indian soldiers that included an officer.
“They attacked with iron rods, the commanding officer was grievously injured and fell, and when that happened, more soldiers swarmed to the area and attacked with stones,” said the source, who had been briefed on the matter.
The Chinese side brought in reinforcements and the brawl went on for a couple of hours, the source said.
“Both sides suffered casualties that could have been avoided had the agreement at the higher level been scrupulously followed by the Chinese side,” Indian foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said in a statement.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said there had been a serious violation of a consensus reached by the two countries.
India and China fought a brief but bloody border war in 1962 and distrust has occasionally led to flare-ups ever since.
Border guards have had skirmishes and fist fights when patrols have confronted each other, but there has been no loss of life from clashes at the border since 1967.
“This is extremely, extremely serious, this is going to vitiate whatever dialogue was going on,” former Indian army commander D. S. Hooda said.
Military experts say one reason for the face-off is that India has been building roads and airfields to improve connectivity and narrow the gap with China’s far superior infrastructure.
At Galwan, India completed a road leading to an airfield in October 2019. China has asked India to stop all construction.
India says it is operating on its side of the Line of Actual Control, the de facto border.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on May 27 that the United States would be willing to mediate between India and China to help them resolve their ongoing border dispute, but thus far, neither India nor China has sought any intervention from the United States nor the international community.
By Devjyot Ghoshal, Fayaz Bukhari, and Huizhong Wu
Epoch Times reporter Venus Upadhayaya contributed to this report.