What has happened?
At least 20 people have died in clashes between Indian and Chinese troops along the disputed Himalayan border running along the Ladakh area of Kashmir. It is the first fatal clash since 1975 and the most serious since 1967.
Fighting broke out on Monday evening when an Indian patrol came across Chinese forces on a narrow ridge. During the confrontation an Indian commanding officer was pushed and fell into the river gorge, sources told the Guardian. Hundreds of troops from both sides were called in and fought with rocks and clubs. Several fell to their deaths.
The Indian Army said there were casualties on both sides, and confirmed three of its soldiers were killed during the clashes, with another 17 later succumbing to injuries.
Beijing has refused to confirm any deaths on its side, but accused India of crossing the border twice and “provoking and attacking Chinese personnel”. The editor in chief of state-run the Global Times, said he understood there had been Chinese casualties, but the People’s Liberation Army wanted to avoid “stoking public mood” by comparing numbers.
Tensions have been escalating since late April, when China sent thousands of troops into the disputed territory along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), bringing artillery and vehicles.
Their refusal to leave disputed areas, including the Galwan Valley inside Indian territory, has triggered shouting matches, stone-throwing and fistfights in key border areas. Last month, there was a massive brawl between patrols, but no deaths.
Earlier this month senior military leaders from both sides met and made a commitment to disengagement.
What is the history of the dispute?
India and China fought a war in 1962 over their contested border in the Himalayas. The war ended with a truce and the formation of a de facto boundary, known as the Line of Actual Control.
No official border has ever been negotiated, the region where the clashes occurred is hostile terrain, at high altitude and sparsely populated, running through the Ladakh region bordering Tibet, home to a Buddhist-majority population. It is a popular tourist destination.
What is the Line of Actual Control?
The LAC is a rough demarcation line separating Indian-controlled territory from Chinese-controlled territory. The exact location of sections of the line, particularly in the western Ladakh region, have remained in dispute. Efforts between the two countries to clarify the LAC have stalled in the past two decades, according to Indian media.
What do the two sides want?
Both countries have sought to establish their claims to territory, by heavily militarising the region. Both have built roads, airstrips, outpost stations, and other infrastructure, such as telephone lines. Troops conduct regular patrols along the disputed border. China claims more than 90,000sq km in the eastern Himalayas and another 38,000sq km in the west, both of which are disputed by India.
The conflict has enormous geopolitical consequences for the world. China and India are the two most populous nations on earth, and both are nuclear powers. They are led by governments run strongly along nationalist lines, and whose militaries are seen as markers of national status and pride.
Both parties have been working towards de-escalation in recent weeks but the loss of life makes the situation even more complicated and precarious.
Chinese state media has reported the PLA is conducting joint military exercises “aimed at the destruction of key hostile hubs in a high-elevation mountainous region”. The PLA Tibet Military Command conducted live fire drills with heavy artillery on Tuesday, with reports linking the PLA’s preparedness for high elevation combat to the clashes with India.