NEW DELHI/BEIJING • India and China have accused each other of firing in the air during a new confrontation on their border in the western Himalayas, in a further escalation of military tension between the nuclear-armed nations.
Hundreds of troops are in eyeball-to-eyeball proximity along the remote border, which witnessed a clash in June that killed 20 Indian soldiers in hand-to-hand fighting, and an unknown number of Chinese casualties.
Both sides have observed a long-held protocol to not use firearms in the sensitive, undemarcated frontier area, though this agreement has not prevented casualties.
The Indian army said yesterday that troops from the People's Liberation Army (PLA) tried on Monday night to close in on a forward Indian position at the Line of Actual Control (LAC), or the de facto border, in the Ladakh sector.
"And when dissuaded by (Indian troops), PLA troops fired a few rounds in the air in an attempt to intimidate (Indian) troops," it said, adding that the Indian side acted with restraint.
"At no stage has the Indian army transgressed across the LAC or resorted to use of any aggressive means, including firing," it said.
But China said the Indian forces had breached the informal border through the southern bank of the Pangong Tso lake.
"The Indian troops brazenly made gunshot threat to the patrolling Chinese border guards who came forward for negotiations, and the Chinese border guards were forced to take countermeasures to stabilise the situation," Mr Zhang Shuili, a representative of the PLA's western theatre command, said.
China's foreign ministry said Indian troops had illegally crossed the LAC and were the first to fire shots. "This is a serious military provocation," said spokesman Zhao Lijian.
Military commanders and diplomats from both sides have held several rounds of talks since July to reduce tensions, but have made little progress to thin out forces in the arid, high-altitude area that both nations claim and consider as vital to their security.
The latest uptick in tensions around the alpine Pangong Lake began late last month when Indian forces mobilised to deter Chinese troops, whose movements suggested they aimed to occupy a hilltop New Delhi regards as its territory, Indian officials said.
Both nations have urged the other to restrain forward troops who have been locked in a face-off since April, after India said China intruded deep into its side of the LAC.
China denies the charge.
"We request the Indian side to immediately stop dangerous actions... and strictly investigate and punish personnel who fired shots to ensure that similar incidents do not occur," the PLA's Mr Zhang said.
India and China fought a border war in 1962 and continue to lay claim to territory stretching from the snow deserts of Ladakh in the west to mountain forests in the east.