On June 15, two Indian infantrymen and a colonel died after hand-to-hand fighting broke out between Indian and Chinese soldiers on the disputed Line of Actual Control between the two most populous nations on earth. The incident marks the first time in 45 years that Chinese-Indian tensions have resulted in casualties.
What is described in Indian media as a “violent face-off” appears to be another unauthorized scuffle in the Galwan Valley, where soldiers from the two nuclear-armed nations have engaged in occasional amateurish fighting over the last months. By presenting the tussle as a clash between nations, the media and politicians are only further heightening tensions between soldiers and encouraging the increasing deterioration of basic discipline among border troops.
Indian media fueled tensions over a non-existent threat on Tuesday, June 16. Indian broadcaster Times Now called the hand-to-hand fighting by Chinese and Indian troops an “unpardonable provocation” and framed the deceased soldiers as “martyred braves.”
Politicians are using media reporting to frame the scuffle between emotional young men as a serious matter, painting the unfortunate brawl as “China flexing its muscles.”
“It is a matter of serious national concern as it has grave implications for national security,” Indian Congressional Spokesman Anand Sharma stated.
Parliamentarian Guarav Gogoi tweeted that “the Chinese are known for their gradual encroachment and continuous aggression,” as politicians attempt to turn the sad result of a scuffle between disorderly young men into a case of international escalation.
The influence of the media on these events can not be discounted. India’s sensationalist media has taken events that exemplify the undisciplined nature of its military troops as evidence of a looming war. Any statement by the Chinese media is taken as a sign of further escalation while government and military officials stress nothing but de-escalation and disengagement.
Lack of discipline
The amateurish hand-to-hand fighting between Indian and Chinese soldiers has been a regular occurrence on the country’s borders. In what appears to be a prevalent lack of discipline and a failure to obey command structures, Indian and Chinese infantry continue to let emotions overrule their country’s objectives to disengage.
Indian media calls the events a violent confrontation, but none of the facts support this claim. The fact that the scuffle consisted only of hand-to-hand fighting reveals that soldiers made the conscious decision to drop their actual weapons, and instead fought like children on a playground.
The problem is unlikely to be resolved as India’s press continues to frame these events as genuine military developments instead of moments of national embarrassment for both nations. Individual soldiers throwing stones and exchanging blows should be a case for disciplinary action; instead, billions of people are put on edge as if China and India have any stake in escalating tensions.
The failure to control the emotions of border troops prompted Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to lodge a complaint with Indian officials. While the Chinese frame the event as a lack of discipline among Indian troops, the fact that Chinese border troops did not disengage or deescalate highlights that the problem exists in both military forces.
What should have been a quiet unreported event destined for military tribunals has become an issue on which Indian politicians “score points” by releasing increasingly provocative statements to appease India’s nationalist majority. That an actual war between the nation is not in any way a realistic prospect is conveniently ignored.
“During the de-escalation process underway in the Galwan Valley, a violent face-off took place yesterday night (Monday night) with casualties on both sides,” the Indian Army said in an official statement, concluding that “senior military officials of the two sides are currently meeting at the venue to defuse the situation.”
As long as the media and politicians continue to frame soldiers engaging in non-authorized brawls as “martyrs” combating “Chinese aggression,” it is likely that discipline among border troops will only further deteriorate.
A 2017 example of the amateurish nature of Sino-Indian “confrontations.”