Footage showing a clash between Chinese and Indian border guards at the disputed Pangong Lake in the Himalayas earlier this week has appeared on social media. The video has not been verified but the incident has been confirmed by Indian officials.
The narrow, serpentine 135-km long body of water, located 4,300 meters above sea level, is cut up by the 4,000 km Line of Actual Control (LAC) – the disputed border between the two powers. While tensions between patrols are not uncommon, the incident on August 15, India’s Independence Day, was described by Indian army sources as “unprecedented.”
The leaked 45-second video, which Indian channel NDTV claims has been confirmed as authentic by government officials, shows the extent of the skirmish which was reported to have lasted up to two hours.
It shows troops from both sides goading each other as they stand in two uneven clusters, with soldiers intermittently holding their comrades back and making threatening sorties towards their opponents. Some are seen throwing stones at the opposite group while several appear to be armed with makeshift weapons.
At 0:20 in the video, one of the border guards is kicked from above, and later, another soldier on the same side falls to the ground and has to be dragged back. Indian media suggested that the victims, towards the bottom of the picture, were Indian due to their lighter uniforms. One of the soldiers at the top is holding what seems to be the red flag of China.
The situation was defused when both sides performed the standard operating procedure known as a ‘banner drill,’ a ritual in which representatives from both sides hold up their flags and declare ownership of the territory before retreating to their respective strongholds. The lack of arms, another conscious policy from both sides, also prevented an escalation, with India saying that soldiers on both sides sustained “minor” injuries.
“I can confirm that there was an incident at Pangong Tso on August 15. This was subsequently discussed by the local army commanders of the two sides. Such incidents are not in the interest of either side. We should maintain peace and tranquility,” foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said at the weekend.
General Bipin Rawat, the chief-of-staff of the Indian Army, travelled to the area Sunday on a three-day visit, the site of the 1962 border war between the two countries.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman said he is “not aware” of the incident, and Beijing urged “the Indian side [to] abide by the LAC and relevant conventions between the two sides.”
The incident comes against a backdrop of a two-month border standoff between the two countries near Bhutan on the other side of the LAC. The crux of the conflict there focuses on Chinese plans to construct a strategic road on territory disputed with Bhutan. India has decried the move as colonization by stealth, and fears it might endanger Delhi’s relationship with the Buddhist Himalayan kingdom.