Hand-to-Hand Combat at the Top of the World

India-China Hand-to-Hand Exercise 2015

India and China have been engaged in a border dispute in the Ladakh region of Indian-administered Kashmir for several decades. This map from the BBC shows the location of the latest flare-up, at the Galwan Lake.

Galwan Lake Clash, BBC https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-53089037
Galwan Lake Clash, BBC https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-53089037

Troops along the border have fought before, but this time soldiers, possibly on both sides, have died. 

What is unusual about this engagement is that apparently the combat was all hand-to-hand. The BBC reported the following:

"The image that emerged on Thursday showed crude weapons that appeared to be made from iron rods studded with nails. It was passed to the BBC by a senior Indian military official on the India-China border, who said the weapons had been used by the Chinese.

Defence analyst Ajai Shukla, who first tweeted the image, described the use of such weapons as 'barbarism.' The absence of firearms in the clash dates back to a 1996 agreement between the two sides that guns and explosives be prohibited along the disputed stretch of the border, to deter escalation...

In May Indian and Chinese soldiers exchanged physical blows on the border at Pangong Lake, also in Ladakh, and in the north-eastern Indian state of Sikkim hundreds of miles to the east."

You can see footage from a 2017 brawl between Chinese and Indian forces at Pangong Lake in this Tweet from ThePrintIndia:

Some on Twitter are trying to pass off cropped versions of this video as footage from the June 2020 incident. There is also video from a confrontation in 2012 or 2013 that is mainly talking.

China has had similar border disputes with Russia. Look for sources on the 1969 Zhenbao Island incident for details. China apparently ambushed Russian troops.

For several years Indian and Chinese troops have participated in a joint exercise called "Hand-in-Hand." This 2015 article shows the sorts of activities the soldiers shared. It is the source of the image at the top of the post. This video from the event shows them practicing unarmed combat. The Chinese troops in the 2015 exercise, at least, are reportedly the same ones involved in the current fighting.

Hand-in-Hand 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSZEq1w70NQ
Hand-in-Hand 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSZEq1w70NQ

This 2018 video from People's Daily shows a Chinese soldier teaching Tai Chi:

2018 China-India Exercise, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JP7OUEFnzc8
2018 China-India Exercise, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JP7OUEFnzc8

This story demonstrates that martial arts have several important roles to play in the modern world.

First, when the rules of engagement deny the use of traditional weapons, soldiers need to know how to engage in unarmed combat, if only to defend themselves.

Second, martial arts can be a way for soldiers from different countries to share a common experience, building personal ties and hopefully reducing mistrust and friction.

Third, martial arts can be a way to promote nationalistic messages. The photo at the top of the post has become very popular during the last two days. It's clearly resonating with many commentators in India, and probably less so with those in China. 

Note: The Economic Times of India article appeared to be the most authoritative source, crediting the Indian Army. I was unable to find it on Indian Army social media or reporting, but if you can locate the origin, please let me know. 

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