China said yesterday it had ‘found’ five Indians who were believed to have been kidnapped by its soldiers on the Himalayan border last week.
The Indian Army said it spoke with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) who confirmed that the youths from Arunachal Pradesh were discovered on their side of the frontier.
Seven Indian youngsters were reported to have been abducted after they went out hunting close to the border on Friday, but two managed to escape.
Relations between the nuclear-armed Asian giants have hit a multi-decade low since a mass brawl along the frontier left 20 Indian soldiers dead in June.
Indian security sources shared images of Chinese troops lined up at the border with spears on Monday night amid renewed threats of skirmishes between the two nuclear armed sides at the Himalayan border
An Indian fighter plane flies over a mountain range in Leh, in the Ladakh region, on Wednesday
Cabinet minister Kiren Rijuu tweeted on Tuesday: ‘China’s PLA has responded to the hotline message sent by Indian Army. They have confirmed that the missing youths from Arunachal Pradesh have been found by their side. Further modalities to handover the persons to our authority is being worked out.’
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian denied any knowledge of the incident when asked about it at a press conference on Monday.
But he did give up an opportunity to lay claim to India’s lands, saying: ‘China has never recognised the so-called “Arunachal Pradesh”, which is China’s south Tibet region.’
It comes as Indian and Chinese troops faced off yet again on Wednesday, firing warning shots into the thin mountain air from outposts just a few hundred feet apart.
‘The situation is tense,’ an official in New Delhi said, adding that Indian and Chinese troops were squaring off in close proximity in at least four locations south of the Pangong Tso lake that both lay claim to.
‘Both are on their own sides of the LAC,’ the official said, referring to the Line of Actual Control, the de facto border.
At a forward position near the Rezang La mountain pass, Indian and Chinese troops were only around 200 yards apart, another official in New Delhi said. Both officials declined to be named.
At least 20 Indian soldiers, including a colonel, were killed in June during a mass brawl at the border
Armed with spears: Chinese troops near the disputed Himalayan border with India on Monday night where gunfire is banned but soldiers fought in deadly hand-to-hand combat in June
China’s foreign ministry spokesman denied any knowledge of the captive Indians on Monday (pictured: Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing last week)
On Monday, the Indian military said Chinese troops fired in the air after attempting to close in on a forward Indian position. But the China military said it was Indian troops who fired the shots, threatening Chinese border guards during a patrol.
In photographs provided by sources in New Delhi from an area south of Pangong Tso taken on Monday, around two dozen Chinese troops with assault rifles hanging off their backs can be seen holding spears.
The Chinese troops were ‘expecting close combat with the Indian Army soldiers’, Indian media suggested – raising fears of a repeat of the deadly clash in June.
China also allegedly fired warning shots in what Beijing called the first exchange of gunfire along the frontier for 45 years, which both sides blamed on each other.
Indian government sources told the Press Trust of India that the soldiers armed with spears were ‘aggressively’ approaching an Indian outpost near the border.
The sources claimed that China’s People Liberation Army had fired 10 to 15 rounds in the air to ‘intimidate our troops’ after India warned of retaliation.
Indian soldiers pay their respects during the funeral of their comrade, Tibetan-origin India’s special forces soldier Nyima Tenzin in Leh on September 7
Indian protesters burn a poster of Chinese president Xi Jinping in July after a mass brawl which left 20 soldiers dead
The world’s two most populous countries have sent tens of thousands of troops to the region since a brutal June 15 battle fought with wooden clubs and fists.
India has said 20 troops were killed. China acknowledged casualties but did not give figures.
The two sides blamed each other for the latest incidents.
Amid calls for boycotts of Chinese goods, India has stepped up economic pressure on China since the June battle and repeatedly warned that relations would suffer unless its troops pull back.
India has banned at least 49 Chinese owned-apps, including the TikTok video platform, frozen Chinese firms out of contracts and held up Chinese goods at customs posts.
An Indian army convoy moves on the Srinagar- Ladakh highway at Gagangeer, northeast of Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir
Patch of uninhabitable desert that India and China have been fighting over for centuries
The Himalayan border between India and China has been disputed for centuries, but the two countries have been fighting over it most recently since the 1960s.
In the 18th century it was fought over by the Russian, Chinese and British empires, and after India gained independence ownership of the region became more confused.
China values the region because it provides a trading route to Pakistan, and recent hostilities have been sparked by fears in Beijing that India will cut it off from the crucial overland corridor.
The current official border between the two was set by Britain and is known as the McMahon line. It is recognised by India but not by China.
In reality, the border between the two countries is on Line of Actual Control (LAC) where Indian and Chinese forces finished after the Sino-Indian War of 1962.
Aksai Chin, the site of the latest tensions, is located in India according to the official border but is claimed as part of the Chinese region of Xinjiang by Beijing.
It is an almost uninhabited high-altitude scrubland traversed by the Xinjiang-Tibet Highway.
The other disputed territory is hundreds of miles away to the east of Tibet.
The 1962 Sino-Indian War was fought on these two frontiers as Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru put it, a struggle over land where ‘not even a blade of grass grows.’
In addition to the disputed border, China had seized Tibet ten years before and accused India of trying to to subvert Beijing’s interests by granting asylum to the Dalai Lama.
There was also a Cold War element and India wanted to see if the US would back it in a confrontation against communist China.
Delhi had ignored the desolate corner of the subcontinent which allowed the Chinese to build a military road through it during the 1950s to connect the province of Xinjiang to Tibet.
The Indian discovery of this highway was a major factor which led to ferocious clashes leading up to the war.
Yet the Indians had just two divisions posted at the border when the Chinese invaded, never suspecting that Beijing would be so bold as to cross the McMahon Line.
The war lasted for one month and left more than 2,000 dead on both sides. It was a heavy defeat for India and led to the new border, the LAC, being established and pushing India back from McMahon line.
Much of the reason for the ongoing conflict is the ill-defined border, the result of a confused status the region had during the colonial era, which was made more murky by India’s war with Pakistan in 1947.
Chinese interest in the region surrounds President Xi Jinping’s centrepiece ‘Belt and Road’ foreign policy to have vast infrastructure throughout the old Silk Road.
Beijing fears that increased Indian presence in the region will cut off its trade route to Pakistan.
The two sides have blamed each other for recent hostilities but analysts say India’s building of new roads in the region may have been the fuse for May’s standoff.
Both sides have dispatched reinforcements and heavy equipment to the zone.