Clashes between China and India could escalate into all-out nuclear war as the superpowers refuse to back down over a border dispute, it has been claimed by an expert.
Both nuclear-armed giants are said to want peace, but blamed each other on Wednesday after soldiers of the two sides viciously fought each other with nail-studded clubs and stones on the Himalayan border on Monday.
Over 60 soldiers on both sides were said to have died prompting India to warn of “reprisals” – while China put up a worrying show of force with a broadcast of live military drills near the disputed area.
According to Indian officials, soldiers were hit during a fight on Monday which erupted in the remote Galwan Valley, high in the mountains where India’s Ladakh region borders the Aksai Chin region captured by China during the 1962 war.
Speaking in MailOnline, Mark Almond, a Brit author and former lecturer in Modern History at Oriel College, Oxford, branded the border dispute a “trigger point for a nuclear catastrophe”.
He said: “Albert Einstein once predicted that if World War 3 was fought with nuclear weapons, then World War 4 would be fought with clubs and rocks.
“China and India have reversed Einstein’s order of conflict, but they have not reduced the risk of nuclear war.
“New Delhi and Beijing must take a step back from the brink and wind back the nuclear clock ticking close to midnight.
“Emotions in both countries have been newly stirred by this primeval violence.”
Both nations have been building up nuclear arsenals in recent years with India believed to be highly out numbered with 140 warheads to China’s 300.
Mr Almond said he fears India’s relative military weakness, coupled with China’s geopolitical relationship with Pakistan, could lead it to escalate the brewing conflict.
He said: “India and Pakistan have danced on the nuclear tightrope too often for comfort. But the nuclear-armed elephant in the room is the rumbling rivalry between India and China.
“China has the ability to strike all over India and India has no effective missile defence. And, let’s not forget, China has nuclear-armed Pakistan as an ally at India’s rear.
“This increases the risk that India might feel pressured to strike first before its bases could be knocked out by China and Pakistan, triggering massive Chinese retaliation.”
At least 20 Indian troops are said to have died in hand to hand combat earlier this week while Indian media reports fears at least 45 people were dead or injured on the Chinese side.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the clash erupted after Indian soldiers “crossed the line, acted illegally, provoked and attacked the Chinese, resulting in both sides engaging in serious physical conflict and injury and death”.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra said on TV “we never provoke anyone”, but went on to give a chilling warning.
He added: “There should be no doubt that India wants peace, but if provoked, India will provide an appropriate response.
“The sacrifice of the soldiers will not go in vain.
“India wants peace but if antagonised it can and will give a befitting reply whatever the situation is.”
Under an old agreement between the two Asian giants, no shots are fired at the border, but there have been an increasing number of skirmishes in recent years between border patrols.
Hundreds of Indian and Chinese troops have been facing each other since early May at three or four locations on the disputed border in the uninhabited, barren mountains of Ladakh.
India says Chinese troops have intruded into its side of the Line of Actual Control or the de facto border.
China rejects the allegation and has asked India not to build roads in the area, claiming it to be its territory.
The rival armies have been eyeball-to-eyeball at their border for decades, but it was the worst clash since 1967, five years after China humiliated India in that war.