The confrontation that erupted in the Ladakh region on Monday comes as thousands of soldiers on both sides have been facing off for more than a month along a remote stretch of the 2,100-mile Line of Actual Control, the border established following a war between India and China in 1962.
China currently claims about 35,000 miles of territory in northeast India, while India says China has occupied around 15,000 miles of its land in the Aksai Chin Plateau.
“We never provoke anyone,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was quoted by Reuters as saying on national television Wednesday. “There should be no doubt that India wants peace, but if provoked, India will provide an appropriate response.”
Government sources told Reuters that the fighting broke out during a meeting on de-escalating tensions. A colonel in charge of the Indian troops, the sources add, was one of the first to be attacked and killed.
Meanwhile, in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian offered a different take, claiming Indian soldiers “crossed the line, acted illegally, provoked and attacked the Chinese, resulting in both sides engaging in serious physical conflict and injury and death.”
Chinese officials said their troops experienced no loss of life, but Indian media, citing their country’s officials, has reported at least 45 deaths or injuries, according to Reuters.
The overall situation there now is stable, Zhao says.
The tensions in the region started escalating in early May, when Indian officials said Chinese soldiers crossed the boundary at three different points, erecting tents and guard posts and ignoring verbal warnings to leave. That triggered shouting matches, stone-throwing, and fistfights, much of it replayed on television news channels and social media.
India unilaterally declared Ladakh a federal territory while separating it from disputed Kashmir in August 2019. China was among the handful of countries to strongly condemn the move, raising it at international forums including the U.N. Security Council.
The U.N. is urging both sides “to exercise maximum restraint.”
Fox News’ Barnini Chakraborty, Caitlin McCall, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.