Upping the ante as Indian and Chinese troops face off over road construction on the borders of a plateau in Bhutan which China claims, Beijing Thursday said withdrawal of Indian troops from the Doklam plateau was a prerequisite for any dialogue between the two countries, and to prevent any escalation. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) also warned Army chief General Bipin Rawat to “stop clamouring for war”, dismissing as “extremely irresponsible” his recent remarks that India was ready for a “two-and-a-half front war”.
Alluding to the 1962 Sino-Indian war, PLA spokesperson Col Wu Qian told reporters: “We hope that the particular person in the Indian Army could learn from historical lessons and stop such clamouring for war.” Meanwhile, Bhutan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: “Bhutan has conveyed to the Chinese side, both on the ground and through the diplomatic channel, that the construction of the road inside Bhutanese territory is a direct violation of the agreements and affects the process of demarcating the boundary between our two countries. Bhutan hopes that the status quo in the Doklam area will be maintained as before 16 June 2017.”
In a statement, Thimphu said that on June 16, “the Chinese Army started constructing a motorable road from Dokola in the Doklam area towards the Bhutan Army camp at Zompelri”. It said boundary talks are ongoing between Bhutan and China and “we have written agreements of 1988 and 1998 stating that the two sides agree to maintain peace and tranquility in their border areas pending a final settlement on the boundary question, and to maintain status quo on the boundary as before March 1959. The agreements also state that the two sides will refrain from taking unilateral action, or use of force, to change the status quo of the boundary.”
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, however, maintained that “Doklam has been a part of China since ancient times. That is an indisputable fact supported by historical and jurisprudential evidence, and the ground situation. China’s activities in Doklam are acts of sovereignty on its own territory. It is completely justified and lawful.” Chinese MFA spokesman Lu Kang put out photographs, allegedly showing the Indian “incursion” into Chinese territory. “The pictures clearly show that Indian soldiers and vehicles have overstepped the crest which is defined as the boundary and entered Chinese territory,” he said.
“Indian border troops illegally crossed into the Chinese territory at the Sikkim section of the China-India boundary… Truth may be concealed for a while, but not forever. We once again urge the Indian side to abide by the existing boundary convention, respect China’s territorial sovereignty, and immediately bring the border troops that have crossed into China back to the Indian side of the boundary, so as not to worsen the situation.” The frontier spat has had Indian pilgrims headed to Kailash Mansarovar returning from the Nathu La pass in Sikkim and China has said resumption of pilgrim passage will depend on what India does next.
Meanwhile, the Chinese military conducted trials of a 35-tonne light weight battle tank in Tibet near the Indian border. Asked whether it is targeted against India, PLA spokesman Wu said, “The purpose is to test the parameters of the equipment and is not targeted against any country.” In New Delhi, sources said the clash on the Doklam plateau, which overlooks the strategic Chumbi Valley that stretches all the way to the frontier with Sikkim, involved troops serving with India’s Brigade-sized mission at Ha — a formation meant to train Bhutan’s armed forces, but which also deploys alongside the Royal Bhutan Army to patrol its frontiers against China.
“Even though India has long had a presence along the Bhutan-China border, it has never acted in defence of its ally’s interests. The Chinese are very upset by the Indian assertion, and are seeking to push back against what they see as a line having been crossed,” a senior Indian official said. The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not explain how Indian troops had succeeded in traversing several dozen kilometres of mountain terrain required to move from Sikkim to Doklam — wording Indian diplomats said was likely intended to avoid drawing Bhutan into the controversy.