What took place on the LAC (Tawang sector) on December 9? 

The Chinese soldiers, numbering between 200-300, tried to transgress Line of Actual Control (LAC) at Yangtse area which is about 25 kilometre from Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. Indian Army troops resisted the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China from advancing further from this side of the LAC, resulting in clashes. More Indian troops joined to assist sentries which lead to intense hand-to-hand combat with sticks and clubs. Some PLA soldiers were briefly held in captivity before letting them off. “In certain areas along the LAC in the Tawang sector in Arunachal Pradesh there are areas of differing perception, where both sides patrol the area up to their claim lines. This has been the trend since 2006,” Indian Army stated after the skirmish was reported in the media on December 12. 

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh later told parliament the PLA’s attempt to unilaterally alter the status quo after encroaching into Indian territory was contested “in a firm and resolute manner”. 

They were forced to return to their posts. The defence minister said some soldiers from both sides were injured in the border skirmish but no Indian soldiers were “hurt or seriously injured”. On December 11, local military commanders met to resolve the transgression, besides that the issue was taken up with the Chinese side “through diplomatic channels”. Since then, the situation has been under control, said Army officials. 

China’s foreign ministry has so far resisted sharing details of the face-off but described the situation at the LAC as “generally stable”. 

Is the incursion at Tawang any different from the clashes between the Indian Army and the PLA in the past, at Galwan, Sikkim etc? 

There are some similarities. The PLA intruded into the Indian side of the perceived LAC in Eastern Ladakh and did not allow Army to patrol points (PPs) such as 10,11, 11A, 12, and 15 to function. That led to clashes in Galwan valley in May 2020, leading to the deaths of soldiers from the two armies. Also, in the Western sector of Arunachal Pradesh, Indian Army soldiers, having learnt lessons from Galwan, confronted the Chinese before they could grab land which is part of their salami-slicing tactics for making territorial gains.

Other than that, unlike Galwan, there was no casualty in Tawang sector face off and peace was restored soon after commanders-level talks. The January 2021 face-off in Sikkim had left troops on both sides injured.      

The LAC in Arunachal Pradesh is one of the “agreed disputed areas” between the two nations, and there are eight such contested points, defence sources point out. But the build-up of forces and aggressive border infrastructure push continues by China, and the two neighbours have to initiate the process of dialogue for the disengagement of troops at contentious friction points at Depsang and Demchok.  

Why is the LAC between India and China so contentious and experiencing frequent disputes? 

India shares 3,488 kilometres of border with China that run along the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, and the states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh. The border is not fully demarcated and there are differing perceptions about LAC which is the cause of the dispute and is a legacy issue since the 1962 war, the two countries fought.   

For years, China has been trying to exploit vagueness on the border and transgress step by step into areas patrolled by Indian Army. They also took advantage of the fact that the Indian Army could not maintain constant vigil along its claimed lines, in the treacherous and high altitude of Ladakh which is snow-laden many months round the year. India and China have mutually completed the disengagement subsequent to the September 8 announcement of withdrawal of troops from Patrolling Point (PP) 15 in the Gogra-Hot Springs area of Eastern Ladakh, which happened after 16 rounds of Corps Commander level talks. Prior to that, the disengagement at PP 17/Gogra took place between August 4 and August 5, last year. 

 China, however, has refused to acknowledge friction points at Demchok and Depsang as legacy issues pre-dating the 2020 Galwan standoff. Army sources said, Demchok is one of the two mutually agreed disputed areas in Eastern Ladakh. 

What has been the reaction from the Chinese government regarding the Tawang episode? How are the UN and other countries responding to the clash? 

On December 13, a day after the news of clashes appeared in the media, China accused Indian troops of “illegally” crossing the LAC in Yangtse in Tawang sector, and stated that both sides have disengaged from the friction point bringing the situation “under control”. 

The Chinese PLA western theatre command’s spokesperson, Senior Colonel Long Shaohua, claimed a “routine patrol” party of theirs “encountered obstruction from the Indian troops who illegally crossed the LAC”. 

The spokesperson skipped mentioning about the physical fight and stated that “the Chinese troops made a professional, normative and resolute response, bringing the on-site situation under control. Up to now, the Chinese and Indian troops have disengaged”. 

The “Indian side should strictly discipline and control its front-line troops and work with the Chinese side to maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas,” Shaohua demanded. He advocated that India should cooperate with China to “earnestly deliver on the important common understandings reached by leaders of both sides, and act strictly in the spirit of relevant bilateral agreements signed by both sides and jointly preserve peace and tranquillity in the border areas”. 

The United States sought “de-escalation” of tensions between the two countries. “We also call to ensure that the tensions in that area (LAC, Tawang sector) do not grow,” Spokesperson of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. 

Is there any likelihood of the tension escalating, does it denote the deterioration of Indo-China relations?

India is not willing to lower guard at the LAC in Indian Ocean Region, given that China continues to enforce salami-slicing tactics without any provocation. The defence establishment believes that Beijing will try to keep New Delhi off balance through low-scale physical confrontations in future as well. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had observed in November that “unless there is peace and tranquillity in the border areas... unless there is an observance of agreements and no unilateral attempt to change status quo... the situation cannot be, and is not, normal”. 

Army officials foresee the possibility of confrontation with Beijing in times to come, which is also evident in its statement post-disengagement at PP15, where it was termed as “a positive development”. Expressing reluctance to accept New Delhi’s demand for restoration of the statusquo ante prior to the Galwan standoff, China had said “the status quo of April 2020…was created by India’s illegal crossing of the LAC”.