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International relations

India now says 20 killed in clash with China in Himalayas

Beijing and Delhi accuse each other of 'unilateral' actions on de facto border

An Indian man burns a photograph of Chinese President Xi Jinping during a protest against China in Ahmedabad, India on Tuesday.   © AP

NEW DELHI -- India's death toll has jumped to 20 after a clash with Chinese troops on the countries' disputed Himalayan border, where the two sides have been locked in a tense standoff for more than a month, the Indian Army said in a statement Tuesday night.

Monday night's violence is believed to be the first deadly confrontation on the border in decades.

Three Indian soldiers were initially reported killed. The additional deaths "were Indian troops who were critically injured in the line of duty at the stand off location and exposed to sub-zero temperatures in the high-altitude terrain," according to the Army statement.

The two sides clashed in the Galwan Valley in the Himalayan region of Ladakh. "Indian and Chinese troops have disengaged" since Monday's confrontation, the Army said, providing no information on Chinese casualties. Local TV reports said no shots were fired and that injuries appear to have been the suffered during hand-to-hand fighting.

The clash was "a result of an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo there," said Anurag Srivastava, a spokesperson for India's Ministry of External Affairs, in a statement Tuesday in response to media questions.

China's Zhang Shuili, spokesperson for the Western Theater Command of the People's Liberation Army, blamed Indian troops for starting the fight after crossing the de facto border, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of the Global Times -- a newspaper under Chinese Communist Party-run People's Daily -- tweeted: "Based on what I know, Chinese side also suffered casualties in the Galwan Valley physical clash."

"My understanding is the Chinese side doesn't want people of the two countries to compare the casualties number so to avoid stoking public mood," Hu added. "This is goodwill from Beijing."

Meanwhile, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh reviewed the border situation in a meeting with Chief of Defense Staff Gen. Bipin Rawat, along with chiefs of the army, navy and air force. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar was also present.

The standoff between the nuclear-armed neighbors began in early May, when Indian and Chinese soldiers confronted each other at Pangong Tso, a lake over 4,000 meters above sea level in Ladakh along the de facto border known as the Line of Actual Control, or LAC. Indian media reported at one point that over 1,000 Chinese soldiers had crossed into India's territory, but Monday's incident marks a dangerous escalation.

In the background is an Indian move to lay a road in the region, as part of its efforts to improve infrastructure along the border. This drew sharp objections from China.

The 3,500 km India-China border has long been prone to flare-ups, including a war in 1962. The last serious standoff took place in 2017, at a strategic junction on the Doklam plateau where the boundaries of India, China and Bhutan meet. The Doklam tensions lasted 73 days, the longest such confrontation in decades.

The Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson said India ensures that all its activities are on the Indian side of the LAC, and expects the same of the Chinese side.

India remains firmly convinced of the need for the maintenance of peace and tranquility in the border areas and the resolution of differences through dialogue, Srivastava said. "At the same time, we are also strongly committed to ensuring India's sovereignty and territorial integrity."

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