India-China border 'face-off': All you need to know in 500 words

Tensions between the two Asian giants escalate as 20 Indian soldiers reportedly killed in Ladakh region.

A military standoff between India and China over their disputed border has escalated into violent clashes that has left at least 20 Indian troops dead.

Tensions flare on a fairly regular basis between the two regional powers over their 3,500-kilometre (2,200-mile) frontier, which has never been properly demarcated.

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But the incident late on Monday, which an Indian army spokesman described as a “violent face-off”, was the first such confrontation since 1975 in which soldiers have died. Reports of Chinese casualties have not yet been confirmed.

What prompted the ‘face-off’?

The two Asian superpowers have for decades been fighting over the largely uninhabited region. They fought a brief war in 1962 – but they have become more frequent in recent years.

Tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbours escalated in May in India’s Ladakh region, which borders Tibet.

Indian officials say Chinese soldiers crossed the boundary at three different points, erecting tents and guard posts and ignoring verbal warnings to leave.

On May 9, several Indian and Chinese soldiers were injured in a high-altitude cross-border clash involving fists and stone-throwing in Sikkim state.

Indian officials said Chinese troops within days encroached over the demarcation line in the Ladakh region, further to the west. India then moved extra troops into the area.

Defusing tensions

In a bid to resolve tensions, the two sides held talks last week in the border outpost of Maldo on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) – the de facto border between the two countries.

At the time, India’s foreign ministry said the two sides would “continue the military and diplomatic engagements to resolve the situation and to ensure peace and tranquillity in the border areas”.

And China said it had reached a “positive consensus” with India over resolving the border tensions through diplomatic and military channels.

But there has been no real breakthrough in talks. 

Indian news reports suggest that India appears to have effectively ceded to Chinese areas that the People’s Liberation Army occupied in recent weeks, notably parts of the northern side of the Pangong Tso lake and some of the strategically important Galwan river valley. 

Meanwhile, following the announcement of the latest deaths, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, said Indian troops crossed the border line twice on Monday, “provoking and attacking Chinese personnel, resulting in serious physical confrontation between border forces on the two sides”.

Commenting on what might come next, defence analyst Shukla told Al Jazeera: “It will basically take a military-to-military dialogue and a diplomat-to-diplomat dialogue – both are under way – to bear fruit. So far, they have not really borne fruit.”

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