An online video of what appeared to be a previously unreported violent clash between Indian and Chinese troops along the disputed Himalayan border offered a rare window into long-simmering regional tensions between the two Asian powers.
According to an Indian military official with knowledge of clashes along the Sino-Indian border, the video was shot in India’s mountainous Arunachal Pradesh state, the de facto border between the two countries, in September. 28, 2021.
CNN has reached out to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment on the video.
It is not clear who shot or released the video, but it went viral on Indian social media on Tuesday, hours after India’s Defense Ministry confirmed on Friday that there had been fighting along the border in the remote Tawang sector in northeastern India. This is the first incident recorded in two years.
The video, which CNN could not independently verify, shows soldiers from both countries in mountainous terrain surrounded by green hills untouched by winter. Although they are separated by barbed wire, footage shows Indian soldiers beating Chinese soldiers with makeshift weapons such as wooden sticks and iron pipes. In several instances, Indian soldiers could be seen throwing bricks or stones.
Most of the Chinese soldiers gathered on the other side of the wire also seem to be holding long sticks or clubs.
The barbed wire finally collapsed and the Indian soldiers advanced, forcing the Chinese troops to jump over a short stone wall and leave the area with Indian encouragement.
An Indian military source said that due to the different perception of the border by the two sides and their patrolling activities along the JAC, there are many violations.
Several experts who spoke to CNN agreed that the video did not capture the recent collision because of the lack of snow. However, one can understand the tension in the video, information about which is usually very limited by the authorities.
“This is an illustration of how quickly tensions between the two sides can go south if they are not defused,” said Sushant Singh, senior fellow at the Center for Policy Studies, an Indian think tank.
The 2,100-mile (3,379-kilometer) border has been a source of contention between India and China. The two countries disagree on its exact location, and both regularly accuse the other of overstepping or seeking to expand their territory.
Although there have been a number of non-fatal skirmishes over the years over the border’s position, tensions rose sharply in June 2020 when the two sides clashed, killing at least 20 Indians and four others. Chinese troops.
Experts say other conflicts that have erupted since then have been given little importance by the authorities. “The Indian mindset when I talk to officials is that if the situation can be dealt with at the local level, between local commanders at the operational level, then it doesn’t become a big international issue that the political leadership has to get involved in,” Singh said.
But in contrast to these subdued incidents, Friday’s clash was widely reported by the Indian media. That coverage, as well as pressure from domestic political opposition, may push the Indian government to discuss the incident more openly, Singh said.
Speaking to lawmakers on Tuesday, India’s defense minister accused Chinese troops of trying to cross the LAC, saying they were trying to “unilaterally” change the status quo. According to him, the soldiers of both sides were slightly injured.
In a statement posted online later that evening, the Chinese Army’s Western Theater Command accused Indian troops of “illegally” crossing the border into China.
The location of Friday’s clash is also significant, Singh said. Tawang, a Buddhist city, is home to a venerable monastery that plays a central role in Tibetan domestic politics, and the city itself is strategically important to China in its Tibetan affairs.
Tibet is an internationally recognized autonomous region within the People’s Republic of China, but most Tibetans oppose the legitimacy of Chinese rule. Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has been in exile in India since a 1959 uprising against China’s occupation of Tibet.
Although the source of the newly surfaced video is unknown, the timing of its release – shortly after Indian authorities confirmed the Tawang clash on Friday – has raised questions.
Ian Hall, deputy director of the Griffith Asia Institute, said the video appeared to show an “Indian victory”. “I think it was issued to reinforce the Indian government’s narrative that it is firmly defending India’s claims.”
He added that given the lack of transparency regarding the border situation, the government has been under pressure since 2020 from its political opponents “about exactly what happened … and how much ground was lost.”
Singh added that the Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has come under domestic criticism for not taking a tougher stance on China – with videos such as these appearing to show India’s military response reflecting “nationalist sentiment” among Indians. population and political opposition.
“I think that videos like this allow this political narrative to spread within the country – looking at it, we’re responding strongly,” he said, adding that it was “very possible” that the video was made to bolster support for the country’s leadership. military.
But more importantly, the video shows how dangerous the situation at the border is and how quickly violence can start and escalate.
Chinese and Indian officials have held a series of talks over the past few years, with China withdrawing troops and dismantling infrastructure along the border in 2021 under a mutual non-aggression pact. But since then, progress has stalled, relations have worsened as India has drawn closer to the United States, and US-China relations have sunk to new lows.
“The video is a reminder to the rest of the world that the LAC is still very volatile – much more so than it will be until 2020,” Hall said.