India’s Pangong Pickle: New Delhi’s Options After Its Clash with China

Even if it can halt additional gains by the Chinese military, New Delhi may find it difficult to restore the status quo.

By Christopher Clary Co-author

The article was originally published in War on the Rocks.

In early May, “fist fights and stone-pelting” broke out between Chinese and Indian troops at two separate sites along their disputed border. India and China are no strangers to border incidents ­— even prolonged standoffs — so the skirmishes were newsworthy but not especially noteworthy.

By the end of the month, Indian and Chinese media had focused attention on several points along the Indian territory of Ladakh in the western sector of the disputed border, known as the Line of Actual Control. In this sector, that official name for the boundary is a misnomer: There is no agreement on where any “line” is, nor is there a clear mutual delineation of the territory under “actual control” of either party. By the end of the month, this episode involved a level of military activity that was at least comparable to a multi-month standoff at Doklam near the Bhutan-India-China trijunction in 2017. Despite the regularity of Sino-Indian border standoffs, there had not been a fatality or shot fired on the border since 1975. This was in part because India and China agreed to confidence-building measures in 1993, 1996, and 2013 in an effort to prevent the use of force — especially deadly force — in the border dispute.

That record of nonfatal confrontation collapsed on June 15 when simmering tensions boiled over and Indian and Chinese forces engaged in a brutal brawl in the Galwan Valley. Involving stones and nail-studded clubs but no firearms, this clash claimed the lives of at least 20 Indian soldiers — including a commanding officer — and an unknown number of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces. It was the bloodiest confrontation on the Sino-Indian frontier in over half a century.

Read the full article in War on the Rocks.

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