India’s conduct was as reckless as “doing a handstand on the edge of a cliff”, fulminated the Global Times, a state-run tabloid in China, on September 8th. “We must warn India seriously: you have crossed the line!” In India’s telling, it was Chinese troops who crossed the line, approaching an Indian position near Mukhpari peak on September 7th and firing “a few rounds” into the air. In China’s version, it was Indian troops who fired the warning shots, forcing the People’s Liberation Army (pla) “to take an emergency response”. Either way, the bullets were the first to fly along the vast Himalayan frontier between the countries in 45 years.
For several months India and China have been locked in a tense standoff in Ladakh, a plateau to the west of Tibet (see map). India has accused the pla of massing forces, building outposts and nibbling territory at several points along the hazy and disputed Line of Actual Control (lac), which serves as a frontier in the absence of an agreed border. In June the two sides agreed to disengage. Days later a deadly but gun-less brawl took place at the Galwan river valley. At least 20 Indian troops were killed and many injured in hand-to-hand fighting with makeshift weapons (the number of Chinese casualties is unknown). The incident dissipated what little trust was left between the pair.