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'Unprecedented' Border Clash Between China and India Leaves at Least 20 Dead as Dangerous Tensions Rise

"It is an extraordinary escalation. No shots fired for 45 years, and then at least 20 soldiers dead in one evening in rock-throwing and bludgeoning."

Two Chinese paramilitary police officers patrol outside the Indian embassy in Beijing on June 16, 2020. (Photo: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)

Tensions rose Tuesday between India and China, two of the world's nuclear powers, as a bloody battle with rocks and wooden clubs on the Himalayan border dividing the two nations left 20 Indian soldiers dead.

"It is an extraordinary escalation," said Shashank Joshi, Defense editor at The Economist. "No shots fired for 45 years, and then at least 20 soldiers dead in one evening in rock-throwing and bludgeoning."

The skirmish comes after weeks of simmering conflict between the two nations on their 2,200 mile mountain border that winds past disputed territories Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. 

As Vox explained, the two countries have disputed control over the region for decades:

For about 80 years, India and China have quarreled over a roughly 2,200-mile frontier spanning the Himalayas, occasionally going to war over their competing claims. Despite 20-plus rounds of negotiations, they haven't come close to agreeing on most of the boundaries, providing a continuous source of tension between Beijing and New Delhi.

The latest flare-up began last month in the Galwan Valley. India's government said that earlier this month, unprovoked Chinese troops threw rocks at Indian soldiers in the western Himalayas. Beijing counters that claim, instead blaming Indian forces for illegally walking into Chinese territory. Whatever the reason, a combined 100-plus soldiers from both sides sustained injuries during two skirmishes on May 5 and May 9.

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Tuesday's conflict, with 20 dead on the Indian side, may make it difficult to de-escalate between the two nations, security analyst Vipin Narang told the BBC

"Once fatalities are sustained, keeping everything quiet becomes hard on both sides," said Narang. "Now public pressure becomes a variable. The scale, scope and swathe of the pressure across the border is seemingly unprecedented."

China has not yet released casualty figures from the fight, a move interpreted by some observers as an effort to quell anger in the country over the battle. 

"We urge both sides to exercise maximum restraint," said U.N. Secretary General António Guterres associate spokesperson Eri Kanek. "We take positive note of reports that the two countries are engaged in deescalating the situation."

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