May 7, 2021

China and India Just Fought a Weird, Bloody Battle at 14,000 Feet. Why?

The battle raged for hours between two nuclear powers on Monday, fought in a contested valley high in the legendary Karakoram mountain range. But the weapons used were as primitive as they were brutal: iron rods wrapped in barbed wire, bare fists, and anything that came to hand. When it was over, India counted 20 of its soldiers dead, some of them forced into a river. China acknowledged the clash, but gave no casualty count or details.

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The incident marked a grave escalation in a decades-old high-altitude stand-off that had been intensifying in recent weeks, and suggests a Chinese strategy for which neither India nor the United States have a good answer: one of provocation, and incremental pushes, constantly testing resolve.

India at first said three of its troops were killed, but in a statement issued later on Tuesday the Indian Army said that 17 more critically injured succumbed to their injuries. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Indian troops “crossed the border line twice… provoking and attacking Chinese personnel, resulting in serious physical confrontation between border forces on the two sides.”

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