Following reports of a “minor face-off” between Indian and Chinese troops at the Naku La border in Sikkim, there is a reason to believe that the area holds importance to New Delhi.
Naku La is located at an elevation of over 5,000 meters in the eastern Himalayas. Indian media reported that Chinese soldiers had made an incursion attempt, after which the Indian Army confronted them leading to a brawl. Soldiers from both sides reportedly suffered injuries.
According to Hindustan Times, the soldiers of China’s People Liberation Army (PLA) were pushed back by the Indian troops.
“It is clarified that there was a minor face-off at Nakula area of North Sikkim on 20 January 2021 and the same was resolved by local commanders as per established protocols,” said the Indian army in a statement.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian urged India to exercise restraint following the clashes.
“I would like to stress though that China’s border troops are committed to upholding peace and tranquillity along the border with India. We urge the Indian side to work in the same direction as us and refrain from actions that might escalate or complicate the situation along the border,
“We hope both sides will take proper actions to manage their differences and take concrete actions to safeguard peace and stability along the border,” said Zhao.
This was the second incident since the two armies got involved in a violent clash in Eastern Ladakh in June last year, resulting in the death of 20 Indian soldiers and unconfirmed casualties on the Chinese side.
Following the incident, the two sides deployed hundreds of troops along with combat equipment and heavy artillery in Eastern Ladakh. The impasse has not lifted yet despite multiple rounds of military-level talks.
According to officials, the Naku La area has traditionally not been prone to face-offs, and therefore the latest incident is another sign of China’s aggressive behavior in the eastern sector.
Naku La is considered a sensitive region; the area was ravaged during the Indo-China war of 1962. Five years later, there was another clash between the two neighbors in Sikkim, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of soldiers on both sides.
A former princely state, Sikkim became the 22nd state of India in 1975 through a referendum. It borders the Tibet Autonomous Region in China in the north and northeast, Bhutan in the east, and Nepal in the west.
According to Indian military experts, the border in Sikkim is of huge importance to New Delhi as the region gives the Indian Army a strategic advantage.
Colonel Danveer Singh (retd) is of the view that the Indian Army is at a height in the region and India has a strategic advantage over China.
“There is a dispute over the territory leading to Tibet, while the demarcation of the border there is very clear. Yet China claims our territories. Its main purpose is to put pressure on India,” Singh was quoted as saying by BBC.
The defense expert also highlighted how India uses the plain area to field tanks in the region. He said the nation’s “strong position in the region worries China” and in the event of tensions, New Delhi could “weigh heavily on China” in and around Naku La.
Following the face-off, top military commanders of both nations held talks to defuse tensions on January 24.
Media reports had suggested that there were injuries on both sides. However, the Indian military has advised the news outlets to stop “overplaying” incidents.
“Media is requested to refrain from overplaying or exaggerating reports which are factually incorrect,” said the Indian military in a statement.
This is fake news. Based on what I learned, there is no record of this clash in the patrol log of the Chinese side. Small frictions often occur on China-India border area, but clash that caused multiple injuries will definitely be recorded and reported. pic.twitter.com/VaeU4Gxkdx
— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) January 25, 2021
On the other hand, the editor-in-chief of China’s state-owned Global Times dismissed the Indian media reports, calling it “fake news”.
“This is fake news. Based on what I learned, there is no record of this clash in the patrol log of the Chinese side,” Hu Xijin said in a tweet.