Tensions between China and India at their disputed border have been reignited—over a crashed drone.
Yesterday Beijing accused India of violating its territorial sovereignty after the recent crash of an Indian drone that China said had “invaded” its airspace at the border separating India’s Sikkim state and China’s Tibet region. Beijing lodged “solemn representations” with India, and asked it to stop flying drones near the border, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said during a regular briefing (link in Chinese).
India, for its part, said the drone was on a regular training mission over its territory but had lost contact with ground control due to a technical failure. Indian border guards alerted their Chinese counterparts about the drone soon after it crossed over a so-called “line of actual control” in the Sikkim area, according to the Indian army.
Earlier this year Chinese and Indian troops confronted each other near the Sikkim border after India opposed Beijing’s attempt to build roads in the disputed Doklam plateau. The 72-day standoff—which at one point involved scuffling and throwing stones—was among the most serious conflicts between the two sides since they fought a war in 1962 that ended in India’s humiliating defeat.
Indeed, China appears to have monitored India with drones in the Himalayas for many years. In 2013, India voiced suspicions of Chinese drone activities, which Beijing denied, in the border area. Previously, the Indian military also complained that (paywall) Chinese and Pakistani drones were regularly breaching its airspace.
In June, Donald Trump authorized sales of two dozen maritime reconnaissance drones to India—with an estimated price tag of $3 billion—to help counter China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi is slated to attend a meeting with his Russian and Indian counterparts in New Delhi next week, in a first visit of a senior Chinese official to India since the Doklam standoff.