In early May, Chinese and Indian troops confronted each other along their remote, disputed border in the Himalayas. For forty days, the two sides engaged in a tense standoff, but a fragile peace held. On June 15, all that changed. Fighting with rocks and wooden clubs wrapped in barbed wire, dozens of soldiers were killed in hand-to-hand combat along desolate ridges high above river gorges. Some soldiers reportedly fell hundreds of feet to their deaths.
China and India — the two most populous countries in the world, and both nuclear-armed — are now engaged in the most dangerous border crisis since they fought a war in 1962. For now, hopes that cooler heads would prevail in Beijing and New Delhi appear misplaced.
At issue is the western sector of the disputed border, between Indian-controlled Ladakh and Chinese-controlled Aksai Chin. The escalating troop deployment, tension, and death toll have pushed tensions to their highest levels in over 50 years. While both China and India have shown a clear interest in de-escalation and dialogue — demonstrated by their relatively calm and non-escalatory statements after the deadly skirmish on June 16 — the latest developments mark a new low in bilateral ties. Restoring a fraught peace now will be easier said than done.
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