Stone-Pelting at Lake Pangong: India, China Border Tensions Under the Spotlight

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Stone-Pelting at Lake Pangong: India, China Border Tensions Under the Spotlight

An unusually violent border incident between India and China highlights ongoing tensions.

Stone-Pelting at Lake Pangong: India, China Border Tensions Under the Spotlight
Credit: Video screen capture via Twitter

On August 15, an Indian border patrol in Ladakh intercepted an attempt by Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers to cross the Line of Actual Controls in the Pangong Tso (Lake) area. The incident saw some escalation, with troops on both sides eventually resorting to shoving, pushing, and throwing stones at the other, causing injuries.

According to the Indian Express, PLA troops “tried to enter the Indian side in two areas — Finger Four and Finger Five — twice between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m.” Indian border patrols were successful in preventing the incursion attempts, which fell on India’s independence day.

The Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) confirmed the incident at Pangong Lake four days after it occurred. “I can confirm that there was an incident at Pangong Tso on August 15… Such incidents are not in the interest of either side,” an MEA spokesperson noted, without specifying the extent of injuries on either side.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, meanwhile, has not directly addressed the facts of the incident, with spokesperson Hua Chunying mentioning that she was not “not aware of the details” the day after the incident.

On August 17, Hua told a reporter that she was “not aware of the ongoing engagement or dialogue between the border troops of the two sides on the ground,” referring the question to the Chinese Ministry of National Defense, which has yet to publicly comment on the incident.

The clash came almost two months after a separate incident involving the Indian Army and the PLA at Doklam, a piece of territory disputed between Bhutan and China, sparked a still-ongoing tense standoff there. The prospect of the PLA pursuing incursion attempts in other sectors, including eastern Ladakh, was an anticipated consequences of the standoff.

The August 15 stone-pelting incident is a result of heightened border tensions more generally this year, since the Doklam standoff began especially, and a consequence of the fact that Indian and Chinese border forces do not carry loaded weapons, which is designed to prevent inadvertent escalation.

Typically, incidents in the Ladakh sector are routine, with some figures sourced to the Indian government hinting at hundreds of incursion attempts a year. Normally, instead of a physical altercation, the border patrols seek to warn the other of an incursion, asking the party in transgression of the Line of Actual Control to fall back.

The Indian Express‘ Sushant Singh, nonetheless, reports that beyond shoving and stone-pelting, both sides also resorted to the “use of steel rods and rifle butts to hit each other.”

The incident at Ladakh on August 15 highlights a general decline in border stability between India and China as various confidence-building measures have faltered in the aftermath of the Doklam standoff, which is now in its third month.

With an eye toward restoring stability, Sino-Indian border personnel meetings are continuing. A day after the Pangong Lake incident, senior officers of the Indian Army and the PLA met to emphasize existing procedures and protocols to prevent similar scuffles.