New Delhi | China and India played the diplomacy card on Wednesday to try to defuse the crisis after a clash between their armies that left dozens dead in the Himalayas, where military tensions around a border dispute remain high .
• Read also: First deadly military confrontation between India and China in 45 years
During the night of Monday to Tuesday, soldiers from the two Asian giants clashed in an extremely violent melee, with fists, stones and iron bars. The battle took place in a valley over 4,000 meters above sea level in the mountainous desert of Ladakh (northern India).
India has reported casualties “on both sides” including 20 soldiers killed in its ranks. China has refused to confirm casualties, but Indian media have reported at least 40 Chinese soldiers killed or seriously injured.
It was the first deadly clash in 45 years between neighboring nuclear powers. The two countries publicly reject responsibility for the clash and say they want a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
Chinese and Indian foreign ministers spoke on the phone on Wednesday afternoon and agreed to “ease the tension on the ground and maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas,” said a statement from Beijing.
In a statement on the appeal, the Indian government denounced China’s “planned and premeditated action” but said the two senior diplomats had agreed “to take no action that could cause the situation to escalate” in Ladakh.
China, in a statement to the foreign ministry, demanded that India “conduct a full investigation” and punish the culprits. “The Indian side must not be mistaken (…) and underestimate the firm will of China to defend its territorial sovereignty,” added the ministry.
The Indian and Chinese armies have been engaged for several weeks in several face-to-face meetings stretched along their disputed border, mainly in Ladakh, and have dispatched thousands of men to reinforce them since May. They agreed ten days ago to de-escalate in some of the disputed areas.
India deployed hundreds of reinforcements to the clash area on Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi assuring that the deaths of Indian soldiers “were not in vain”.
“India wants peace but is able to give an appropriate response when it is provoked,” insisted the Hindu nationalist leader during his first public statement on the subject.
Indian military transport planes landed overnight at Leh airport, unusual night traffic for the capital of Ladakh, security sources in the region told AFP on Wednesday.
Hundreds of Indian paramilitaries have also been dispatched to areas near the Galwan Valley, the scene of the violence, the sources added.
The Chinese channel CCTV for its part showed images of soldiers and armored vehicles conducting maneuvers in Tibet, the border region of Ladakh.
The clashes mainly took place without the use of firearms, in accordance with a long-standing practice aimed at avoiding a real military confrontation in this border region.
An Indian military source spoke of “heavy hand-to-hand fighting”. Media reports said that the Chinese soldiers were armed with iron bars and studded sticks.
The bodies of Indian soldiers who died in the deep Galwan Valley bear witness to the brutality of the confrontation.
Indian soldiers “were overwhelmed and many of them were pushed down a steep stony slope. They fell like falling objects, “a security source told AFP.
According to initial findings, “the main cause of death is drowning (but) it seems that they fell from high into the water because they have head injuries,” a source close to AFP described to AFP. folder.
India and China have had longstanding territorial disputes in the areas of Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh (east).
Confrontations in mountainous areas between Indian and Chinese armies have become more frequent in recent years, which the US administration of Donald Trump interprets as a sign of increasing Chinese aggressiveness in Asia.
“We are far from World War III, but it is an explosive and dangerous situation between two nationalist nuclear powers at a time when American influence has diminished considerably,” said Abraham Denmark, director of the Asia program of the think tank. American Wilson Center.
The last open conflict between the two most populous nations on the planet dates back to the 1962 Flash War, which saw Indian troops quickly defeated by the Chinese military.