Chinese, Indian soldiers skirmish along disputed border near Tibet

Video of soldiers bashing each other with sticks goes viral, but unclear if it depicts Dec. 9 clash
By Lobsang Gelek for RFA Tibetan
Chinese, Indian soldiers skirmish along disputed border near Tibet In this undated image capture from a video, Indian troops clash with China’s People’s Liberation Army soldiers along the de facto border between India and China. It isn’t clear if this video is of a Dec. 9 skirmish that took place in the Tawang sector of northeastern India’s Arunachal Pradesh state, but it provides a rare glimpse of an outbreak of violence between the two sides.
RFA screenshot from citizen journalist video

UPDATED at 6:55 p.m. EST on 12/15/2022

Indian and Chinese troops clashed at their disputed, mountainous land border late last week, officials of both sides have confirmed, in a scuffle that left several people injured.

The skirmish occurred between their forces on Dec. 9, in the Tawang sector in northeastern India’s Arunachal Pradesh state, near the border with Chinese-controlled Tibet. 

Subsequently, video of an outburst of violence between Indian and Chinese troops emerged and was circulated widely on social media. The footage shows soldiers from both sides bashing each other with sticks, jostling and hollering, until one group retreats. 

Originally, sources told Radio Free Asia that the video depicted the Dec. 9 skirmish, but questions have since emerged about its date. Several Indian news outlets say the Indian army has denied the video depicts last week’s skirmish. RFA has reached out to the Indian Ministry of Defense for comment.

Each country blamed the other for sparking the clash. In a statement on Monday, the Indian army said there were “minor injuries” to a few personnel from both sides.

Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said that the Chinese soldiers crossed the Line of Actual control, de-facto border between the two countries in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir, parts of which are also claimed by Pakistan. 

The line divides Ladakh in the Indian-controlled area from the Chinese-administered Aksai Chin.

According to a Chinese military spokesperson, the Chinese troops were patrolling the border, and it was the Indians who had crossed the line.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin downplayed the incident by telling a news briefing Tuesday that the overall situation along the China-India border was stable.

In 2020, a clash between the two sides at the border left 20 Indian soldiers and four Chinese soldiers dead. That strained relations between the two Asian powers. The tensions have since eased.

Rare look

Despite the uncertainty of when it was filmed, the video that emerged this week provide a rare look at how violence can flare at the de facto border, which spans  3,500 kilometers (2,100 miles). In 1962, the two countries fought a bloody war over contested territory there.

In the video, the Indian soldiers are seen on higher ground, shouting and wielding long sticks to beat a cluster of Chinese soldiers, some of whom use clubs to swing back. At one point, an Indian soldier picks up a couple bricks and throws them into the melee.

After a few minutes, the Chinese soldiers fall back to regroup, and the Indian soldiers let out a victorious cheer. 

Growing political tension between Beijing and New Delhi could result in an escalation that neither side wants. Both countries are nuclear powers and China is one of India’s major trading partners. 

Observers say that negotiation would be the best strategy to resolve the tensions, but a former Indian official said China is likely to strengthen its position on the border.

“If we go back into history, right from the beginning China has made it clear that China is the only dominant power in the Indo-pacific region,” Jayadeva Ranade, who was once the Cabinet Secretariat of the Indian government and is now president of the Delhi-based Centre for China Analysis and Strategy, told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

“If we look at it only in the context of Tibetan territory, they have made a similar claim on Ladakh and Arunachal,” he said.

 Ranade said that Chinese President Xi Jinping has no plans to ease tensions with India, as several people with experience in the Chinese military’s Western Theatre Command were appointed to important positions.

"I think there is a focus on this border. And I expect there will be a push for more clashes or skirmishes in the times to come,” he said.

China views the disputed territory as one it lost at a time when the country was weak, and now it is looking to reclaim it, Kalpit Mankikar, a fellow with the Strategic Studies Programme at the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation. 

“But now that China is strong, look at Xi Jinping’s pronouncement. He has been talking about a rich nation and a strong army,” said Mankikar.  “So, this has been happening throughout this year and Xi has been meeting with the [army] leadership and these meetings are well publicized.” 

Historical, cultural significance

The disputed area has historical significance, as it was the area that Tibet’s foremost spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled to in 1959 when he went into exile, Ninong Ering, a member of the Arunachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly, told RFA. 

“Tawang is the holy place from where His Holiness the Dalai Lama entered into India. So that is the reason that Chinese are really agitated and they always like to claim Tawang or the parts of Arunachal as China,” he said. 

“China says Arunachal is southern Tibet,” Ering said. “Let me be very frank that people of Arunachal are very proud that we are Indians, and we have that nationalistic feeling.”

Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Eugene Whong. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

Updates story to clarify that questions have emerged about when the video was taken. Adds background on India-China border tensions.


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Tushaar Kuthiala
Dec 14, 2022 12:15 AM

Please get your facts straight. This video is undated and not from the most recent incident. It has been floating around on social media for over a year now. Factchecking sites in India have said it is likely from 2021.

India Winnnnnnnnn!!!!
Dec 14, 2022 09:51 PM

India Winnnnnnnnnnn!!!!

Dec 15, 2022 08:39 AM

A more civilized response by Chinese and Indian solders would be them fighting each other not with sticks but socks filled with manure.