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India Reports 20 Troops Killed In Clashes On The Border With China

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now to a conflict that is flaring up high in the Himalayas. India and China share the world's longest unmarked border. They fought a war there in 1962, and the border is still in dispute. Both countries have thousands of troops stationed on opposite sides, and now there has been a deadly confrontation there, the first in decades. At least 20 Indian troops have been killed. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports.

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ARNAB GOSWAMI: Good evening, and welcome, my dear viewers. I meet you tonight at a time when there is an imminent and grave threat emerging from the delusional Chinese.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: India's nationalist TV anchors are lashing out at China tonight after what the Indian government called a violent face-off on the India-China border. An Indian colonel was among those killed in clashes there late last night. Others succumbed to their injuries in subzero temperatures. The India-China border stretches about 2,500 miles through one of the most remote regions on Earth, says Tanvi Madan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

TANVI MADAN: This is above 14,000 feet - very cold, very kind of mountainous, difficult terrain. There's actually very little civilian visibility on what's going on in these areas.

FRAYER: So when both countries accused the other's troops of crossing that border illegally and instigating this deadly fight, their claims are almost impossible to verify. But China is the bigger power, and Madan says there is speculation as to why Chinese leader Xi Jinping would want to engage in any conflict with India in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

MADAN: Is it because he doesn't want to show any weakness; he actually wants to show some strength because he's getting some questions domestically? Or is it because he actually sees, with other countries on the back foot, an opportunity and an opening to actually take some of this assertive action?

FRAYER: She points to assertive action China is taking toward Hong Kong and in the South China Sea. India and China accuse each other of provocations, and there have been scuffles between troops in recent weeks, though none as deadly as last night's. C. Uday Bhaskar heads the think tank Society For Policy Studies. He believes China is trying to force a resolution in this long-running dispute with India.

C UDAY BHASKAR: You catch India by surprise. You put New Delhi on the defensive. And now you say, let's talk, and this is the new status quo. China found an opportunity and maximized it.

FRAYER: For now, officials on both sides are staying tight-lipped and urging calm. High-level military talks were held as recently as this past weekend to try to diffuse tensions, but so far, only the opposite seems to be happening.

Lauren Frayer, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF PETE ROCK'S "SMOOTH SAILING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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