India and China blamed each other for 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 erupted in a clash in June that killed 20 Indian soldiers in hand-to-hand fighting.
Both sides have observed a long-held protocol to avoid using firearms on the sensitive, undemarcated frontier, though this agreement has not prevented casualties.
On Monday night, troops of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) attempted to close in on a forward Indian position at the Line of Actual Control (LAC), or the de factor border, in the Ladakh sector, the Indian army said in a statement.
“And when dissuaded by own (Indian troops), PLA troops fired a few rounds in the air in an attempt to intimidate own troops,” the army said in a statement on Tuesday, 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 Indians had breached the informal border through the southern bank of the Pangong Tso lake, where tension has been rising for more than a week.
“The Indian troops brazenly made gunshot threat to the patrolling Chinese border guards whocame forwards for negotiations, and the Chinese border guards were forced to take countermeasures to stabilise the situation,” said Zhang Shuili, a representative of the PLA’s western theatre command.
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,” spokesman Zhao Lijian told a daily news conference in Beijing on Tuesday.
Military commanders and diplomats have held several rounds of talks since July to reduce tension, but have made little progress to thin out forces in the arid, high-altitude region that both nations claim and consider as vital to their security.