India triggered the latest clash with China on their Himalayan border by executing a stealth night-time operation to claim strategic outposts offering a clear view of troop movements in disputed territory, according to Indian officials with knowledge of the matter.
In what they called India’s first offensive move since the conflict began in May, thousands of soldiers climbed up mountain peaks for about six hours to claim the vantage points along the south bank of Pangong Tso — a glacial lake roughly the size of Singapore. The action was taken to counter what India saw an intrusion by Chinese forces, the officials said, asking not to be identified due to rules on speaking to the media.
The decision to capture high ground that was previously unoccupied along the 3,488 kilometer (2,162 mile) Line of Actual Control revived a conflict that had been largely dormant since June. Back then, India and China’s worst dispute in four decades culminated in the death of 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers in an ugly battle.
The conflict has prompted economic ties to deteriorate, with India limiting Chinese investments, tightening scrutiny on visas and moving to keep Huawei Technologies Co. out of 5G networks. India on late Wednesday banned 118 Chinese apps including Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s wildly-popular game PUBG Mobile Lite and payments service Alipay, following up on its June ban of several applications including ByteDance Ltd.’s viral short-video service TikTok.
China on Wednesday accused India of breaching agreements between the two sides and unilaterally changing the status quo. An Indian Army spokesman wasn’t immediately available for a comment.
“In China, we have a saying about a guilty man protesting conspicuously his innocence,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing. “That’s just what India did.”
Two meetings between senior Indian and Chinese military personnel since the weekend have ended in a deadlock, but commanders from both sides continued to engage each other on Wednesday. While India denied that troops crossed the Line of Control, the move will prevent China from easily monitoring an Indian road that’s crucial for transporting supplies, soldiers and heavy artillery to forward posts along the disputed border.
Both India and China have moved thousands of troops, tanks, artillery guns and fighter jets close to the border since their standoff began in May. But India’s move over the weekend escalated the conflict, said Jayadeva Ranade, a member of the National Security Advisory Board.
“The Indian military move on along the border is defensive but has element of deterrence as well,” said Ranade, who also heads the New Delhi-based think tank China Analysis and Strategy. India is now waiting to see how China reacts, including any moves to counter the deployment that could result in hostilities, he said.
Within China, the appetite for more aggressive moves appears to be growing. A joint survey launched by the Communist Party-run Global Times and the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, a research group affiliated with the Ministry of State Security, found more than 70% of the nearly 2,000 people surveyed believed India was being too hostile against China. Nearly 90% supported the government in retaliating strongly against Indian provocations.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi “faces a damaging loss of face” if he doesn’t react strongly to Chinese moves on the border particularly after investing so much political capital in boosting ties with President Xi Jinping, according to Brahma Chellaney, a former adviser to India’s National Security Council and professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.“The latest skirmishes underscore the growing risks of a Himalayan military conflict,” he said.
(Updates with India banning Chinese mobile applications in fourth paragraph)
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