On Thursday, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army voiced “strong dissatisfaction and opposition” to what it claimed was the intrusion of an Indian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) into its airspace.
In a statement carried by Chinese state media, Zhang Shuili, the deputy head of the combat bureau of the PLA Western Theater Command’s joint staff department, said that “India’s move has infringed upon China’s territorial sovereignty, and we are strongly dissatisfied with and opposed to this.”
“We will fulfill our mission and responsibility and defend China’s national sovereignty and security resolutely,” he added.
The Indian Ministry of Defense, following the Chinese statement, released its own clarification, noting that an Indian Army UAV had indeed crossed the Line of Actual Control — the disputed de facto border between the two countries — and crashed after its operators lost control.
“An Indian UAV which was on a regular training mission inside the Indian territory lost contact with the ground control due to some technical problem and crossed over the [Line of Actual Control] in the Sikkim Sector.”
The Indian side further clarified that “as per standard protocol, the Indian border security personnel immediately alerted their Chinese counterparts to locate the UAV.”
A spokesperson for the Indian Ministry of Defense confirmed that the two countries were investigating the incident and that China had shared the location of the UAV’s crash on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, through a spokesperson, noted that it had filed a diplomatic protest with India, asking it to “stop the activities of the devices near the border and work with China to maintain peace and tranquillity of the border areas.”
While the precise area of the incident remains unclear, with neither side offering precise details, the Sikkim sector of the India-China border in the east has been a hotspot between the two sides.
The major summertime standoff at the India-China-Bhutan triboundary region of Doklam took place in that sector; while troops from both sides retreated their positions in a “disengagement” in August, they remain in the area, even as the harsh winter sets in.
The UAV incident comes ahead of a trilateral meeting between the foreign ministers of India, China, and Russia next week in New Delhi. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet to discuss a range of regional and global issues.
The Russia-India-China trilateral meetings take place on an annual basis, with Russia having hosted last years’ meeting.