It is unclear exactly what happened at the normally quiet stretch of land in the Himalayan mountains, but Indian media reported that 3,000 troops from India, the Sikkim sector claimed by China, and Bhutan, which also lays claim to the area, came to a "virtually eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation."
"Former Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru endorsed the 1890 Sino-British Treaty on Sikkim in a letter to the then Chinese counterpart Zhou Enlai in 1959. Successive Indian governments have also endorsed this,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters, stressing that New Delhi has now “betrayed” the position taken by earlier leadership, according to the Times of India.
Specifically, Geng said New Delhi needs to pull its soldiers back from the Doklam plateau, which Beijing claims as part of its territory, noting that "The India-China boundary in the Sikkim section is well demarcated."
Relations between Beijing and New Dehli are already tense, as the two nations continue a territorial struggle that has lasted over fifty years. Both nations have accused each other of ramping up ill-will by trespassing on the other’s territory.
Geng also confirmed that China has closed the Nathu La route in the Sikkim sector, a path opened in 2015 for Indian pilgrims travelling to Lake Manasarovar and Mount Kailash, sacred sites for Buddhists and Hindus.
"The other route to Tibet through Lipu lake is open as it is located in the middle section where there is no dispute," he said.
Rajeswari Rajagopalan, senior fellow at New Delhi’s Observer Research Foundation, suggested that this clash, days before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with US President Donald Trump in Washington, was likely no "mere coincidence."
"There is actually a lot of confusion as to where this incident happened. It is not even clear if it was on the Sino-Indian border," he told India’s Defence News.
The issue of the Sikkim border region has been simmering for some time, according to Wang Dehua, director of the Institute for Southern and Central Asian Studies at the Shanghai Municipal Centre for International Studies, who said it’s a wonder there hasn’t been more open conflicts in the area.
Apart from the occasional skirmish, "it is nothing short of a miracle that the Sino-Indian frontier has been largely quiet, without a single shot fired for over two decades," he said.