Shots Fired on India-China Border for First Time in 45 Years

September 8, 2020 Updated: September 8, 2020

The tensions between India and China flared on Sept. 7 to a level not seen in decades, as shots were fired in Ladakh, the disputed Himalayan border region that was the scene of a violent clash between Chinese and Indian troops on June 15.

It was described as the first exchange of fire between the countries in 45 years.

While the Chinese side has accused the Indian side of crossing the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and opened fire to deter Chinese patrol guards, the Indian side has disputed such claims and accused China of firing during the latest face-off.

“On 7 September 2020, it was the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] troops who were attempting to close-in with one of our forward positions along the LAC and when dissuaded by own troops, PLA troops fired a few rounds in the air in an attempt to intimidate own troops,” India’s Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement on Sept. 8.

“At no stage has the Indian Army transgressed across the LAC or resorted to use of any aggressive means, including firing,” Indian officials said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lijian Zhao offered his version during a regular press conference.

“The Indian troops illegally crossed the line into the Shenpao Mountain region on the southern bank of the Pangong Lake in the western sector of the China-India border, and blatantly fired shots to threaten the Chinese border patrol personnel who approached them for representations,” Lijian said.

Former Deputy Chief of Indian Army Staff Lt. Gen. Gurmit Singh told The Epoch Times over the phone from New Delhi that the situation needs to be understood from the perspective of strategic high mountain warfare, as the current conflict is happening at an altitude of more than 13,000 feet.

“Winter is approaching. It’s to take a cue from the 1962 war that started on Oct. 25. Next month, the temperature will fall down to sub-zero degrees Celsius. Both sides are strategically trying to gain an upper hand before the window of the winter closes,” he 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 counterpart on June 15, in a market area in New Delhi on Aug. 31, 2020. (Jewel Samad/ AFP via Getty Images)

China’s Tactics

Dr. Satoru Nagao, a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute who was awarded his doctorate by Tokyo’s Gakushuin University for his thesis, titled “India’s Military Strategy,” told The Epoch Times in an email that China has ratcheted up its activities in the region over the past decade, and the Sept. 7 incident should be seen as “one step” in a long process.

China’s incursions into India gradually increased to 663 in 2019 from 213 in 2011, according to Nagao.

“This move is very similar if we compare it with China’s activities in other regions. For example, the number of Chinese vessels identified within the contiguous zone in the waters surrounding the Senkaku Islands in Japan, show the same tendencies. The number has been 12 (2011), 428 (2012), 819 (2013), 729 (2014), 707 (2015), 752 (2016), 696 (2017), 615 (2018), and 1,097 (2019),” Nagao said.

He said the current situation on the India-China border resembles the situation in the East China Sea or the South China Sea.

“There is a possibility that China thinks of this area as ‘South China Mountain,'” he said.

Meanwhile, India’s Asia News International (ANI) shared a picture on Twitter of PLA soldiers carrying rods, spears, and sharpened weapons. India and China share some rules concerning the LAC, Nagao said; one such rule, from 1996, prohibits the use of firearms in the area.

Singh defined the situation as that of escalated tension, provocation, and psychological warfare from the Chinese side.

“India and the Indian army has no trust in PLA and China,” he said.

“The Indian army has huge experience in winter, snow, and high-altitude warfare and significantly, has marked immense combat experience, which PLA woefully lacks,” Singh added.

China recently redeployed weapons toward India on the western side of the border area that had been positioned against the United States and Japan on the eastern side, Nagao said.

“Recently, on the China side of the India-China border area, J-20 stealth fighter jets, DF-21 ballistic missiles, S-300 surface to air missiles have been identified.”

“At the end of August, Chinese troops prepared to occupy one certain height. But because India realized it, Indian soldiers went to the height and occupied before Chinese troops reached it. At this height, Chinese or Indian troops fired in the air and warned to prevent the clash,” Nagao said.

“Firing itself is a violation of an agreement in 1996, but there was no clash.”

Epoch Times Photo
Indian army vehicles drive on a road near Chang La high mountain pass in northern India’s Ladakh region, India near the border with China on June 17, 2020. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

Geopolitics

Meanwhile, the firing incident happened just a few days after the first high-level meetings between the two sides’ defense leaders on Sept. 4 in Moscow.

At the meeting of China’s Gen. Wei Fenghe and India’s defense minister, Rajnath Singh, Singh had said that “the current situation should be handled responsibly and neither side should take any further action that could either complicate the situation or escalate matters in the border areas,” the Indian defense ministry said in a statement.

Singh said the PLA’s tactics show that they aren’t a professional army and they lack combat experience.

“They are a force of the political party. Their last war experience was in 1979 in Vietnam,” he said.

Nagao says China’s “lawless expansionism” is often paired with efforts to exclude countries that are outside its targeted region.

“In the East China Sea and the South China Sea, China blames its assertive behavior on the intervention of outsiders. Similarly, in the case of the India-China border, China is trying to halt Indian cooperation with the U.S., Japan, and Australia, which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has stepped up of late.”

India recently signed a logistic support agreement with Australia and will sign a similar agreement with Japan sometime later this month. That will ensure that the United States, India, Japan, and Australia all have such strategic agreements, efforts that China would seek to contain, Nagao said.

“To do so, which country would China choose to pressure? The most likely answer is India because China and India share a nearly 4,000 km [almost 2,500 miles] land border (unlike the U.S., Japan, and Australia), allowing China to leverage its army.”

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