Indian, Chinese Troops Clash in Sikkim, With Injuries on Both Sides, Indian Media Says

Expert explains link of these Indo–China skirmishes with US politics
By Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya reports on wide range of issues. Her area of expertise is in Indian and South Asian geopolitics. She has reported from the very volatile India-Pakistan border and has contributed to mainstream print media in India for about a decade. Community media, sustainable development, and leadership remain her key areas of interest.
January 25, 2021 Updated: January 25, 2021

NEW DELHI—Indian and Chinese troops clashed on the disputed border of northern Sikkim in the Himalayas on Jan. 20, resulting in several injuries on both sides, according to the Indian media.

The skirmish occurred after the Chinese soldiers tried to intrude into the Indian side at Naku La, and the Indian side pushed the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) back despite bad weather, according to India Today, a leading Indian media outlet that cited sources saying the injured include 20 PLA and four Indian soldiers.

The reports of injured, however, vary in other media, and there’s no official confirmation of the numbers.

“It’s clarified that there was a minor face-off between the Indian Army & Chinese PLA troops at Naku La, Sikkim on 20th January. It was resolved by local commanders as per established protocols,” the Indian army said in a Jan. 25 statement released by Asian News International, an Indian news agency.

Satoru Nagao, a nonresident fellow at the Washington-based Hudson Institute, told The Epoch Times that the intention behind the minor skirmish at Sikkim isn’t clear, and it shows that India was “well prepared” this time.

While the Chinese side didn’t confirm the clash, the Chinese foreign ministry said the regime in Beijing is “committed to maintaining peace” on the border and that “India should take practical actions” to ensure the peace.

Chinese state-run media Global Times called the news of last week’s clash “fake,” citing its own “source.”

“There is no record of this incident in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) front line patrol logs,” the Global Times said in a report on Jan. 25.

The news of the “minor face-off” poured in after recent reports of the Chinese having built 101 houses inside the Indian territory in the disputed border region of Arunachal Pradesh and also after military commanders on both sides engaged in the ninth round of corps commander-level talks on Jan. 24.

The Indian army also asked the media to refrain from “overplaying or exaggerating reports which are factually incorrect.”

India and China have a history of clashes in Ladakh, where a bloody conflict occurred last year, and also along the borders in Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, with Sikkim between Bhutan and Nepal, and Arunachal Pradesh east of Bhutan.

Indian military veteran retired Lt. Gen. Kamal Davar, who founded India’s Defense Intelligence Agency, told The Epoch Times that the PLA is trying to keep all the sectors live where they face Indian troops, and he mentioned that the Sikkim skirmish happened just a few days before the 9th round of corps commander-level talks.

“In 1967, too, in the same area, we had a firefight where the Chinese suffered many casualties and the Indian troops held their ground. Chinese bullying tactics will be firmly dealt with,” Davar said.

Tejendra Khanna, a former senior Indian civil servant who has an interest in geopolitical affairs affecting India, told The Epoch Times that the Chinese side has deliberately held back from settling the border demarcation issue.

“This leads to avoidable clashes. It is high time that there should be a genuine effort to end the ambiguities, on the basis of already agreed principles. China’s provocative and strong-arm tactics will not yield any durable solution,” he said.

Nagao said that the timing of the major and minor India–China border incidents in Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim have international ramifications because they happened around the time of the swearing-in of U.S. President Joe Biden.

“Therefore, China can check what kind of reaction the U.S. will show. Will the new U.S. administration support India clearly as Trump did in the past?” he said.

“Traditional American diplomacy was not choosing a side in the border issue [between India and China]. But Trump chose India relatively clearly. If Biden returns to the past, China can move more easily, and that’s what China is trying to know” by such skirmishes, Nagao said.

Epoch Times Photo
A man walks past a poster depicting portraits of Indian soldiers killed in a hand-to-hand fight with their Chinese counterparts on June 15, 2020, in a market area in New Delhi, on Aug. 31, 2020. (Jewel Samad/ AFP via Getty Images)

9th Round of Commander-Level Talks

India and China met on Jan. 24 for their 9th corps commander-level meeting on the Chinese side of the Moldo-Chushul border meeting point and described the meeting as positive, practical, and constructive in a joint statement.

“The two sides had a candid and in-depth exchange of views on disengagement along the Line of Actual Control [LAC] in the Western Sector of China-India border areas,” the public relations officer of the Indian army, Col. Aman Anand, said in the release.

Anand said the two sides have agreed to an early disengagement of the front line troops during the 15-hour-long talks. After the bloody June 15, 2020, incident in the Galwan Valley, India and China stationed a total of more than 100,000 troops on both sides in a high state of combat preparedness.

“The two sides agreed to continue their effective efforts in ensuring the restraint of the frontline troops, stabilize and control the situation along the LAC in the Western sector of the China-India border, and jointly maintain peace and tranquility,” Anand said.

Nagao said the border incidents and the resulting diplomacy are about which country will lead the region.

“From International situational [perspective], this issue is beyond India-China. This is the issue of U.S.-China. U.S. or China, which country will lead the world?” Nagao said, adding that similar Chinese activities need to be seen around Japan and Vietnam as well in order to comprehend the wider Chinese strategy.

“China wants to know Biden’s diplomatic skill. If he’s a weak man, China can be bold in many areas in the world in the next four years: East China Sea, South China Sea, South Pacific, Indian Ocean, Arctic, space, cyber. … China wants to know the skill of the Biden administration. To know this skill, small confrontation is useful,” Nagao said.

He said if the reaction of the Biden administration to what’s transpiring between India and China is “slow and weak,” China will understand that it’ll be the same in the South China Sea and elsewhere, and China will be bold.

As the world continues to deal with the pandemic, and in the aftermath of the U.S. elections, Khanna reminds the emerging world of India’s core perspective of “Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah” and “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam,” which are Sanskrit adages that mean “We seek the well being of all” and “The whole world is one family.”

“Thus, the fruits of development and progress can only be enjoyed by nations in a stable environment of peace and mutual goodwill rather than that of aggression and dominance,” he said.

Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya reports on wide range of issues. Her area of expertise is in Indian and South Asian geopolitics. She has reported from the very volatile India-Pakistan border and has contributed to mainstream print media in India for about a decade. Community media, sustainable development, and leadership remain her key areas of interest.