The verbal spat between China and India escalated on Monday, as Beijing said the Indian Army’s action to stop Chinese troops from constructing a road in an area near Sikkim is a “betrayal” of the stance taken by successive Indian governments, and India must withdraw from the region.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said that the Sino-India border in the Sikkim sector is well demarcated. “By entering into Chinese territory and obstructing Chinese troops’ normal activities, India violated the existing convention on the boundary and basic principle of the international law and obstructed peace and stability of the boundary area,” Geng told reporters in an extensive briefing.
China and India have been engaged in a stand-off in the Doka La area near the Bhutan tri-junction for almost a month in what has been the longest such impasse between the two armies since 1962, when the two countries fought a brief war.
Sikkim, which became a part of India in May 1976, is the only state with a demarcated border with China. The lines are based on an 1898 treaty signed with China.
He dismissed Defence Minister Arun Jaitley’s remarks that India of 2017 is different from what it was during the war with the communist nation in 1962, saying China too is different and will take “all necessary measures” to safeguard its territorial sovereignty.
“Former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru endorsed the 1890 Sino-British Treaty on Sikkim in a letter to then Chinese counterpart Zhou Enlai in 1959. Successive Indian governments have also endorsed this,” he said.
He, however, said the line for diplomatic communication between India and China is “open and smooth”.
India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, who is the Special Representative for the India-China border talks, is to visit Beijing on July 26 to attend the meeting of the NSAs from BRICS - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. He is expected to discuss the issue with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi.
The standoff first came to public notice when China denied Indian pilgrims entry for Kailash Mansarovar Yatra through the Nathu La pass in Sikkim. Beijing initially said it stopped the Yatra due to damage to roads in Tibet after rains and landslides. But soon signalled the matter was related to the standoff between the two armies near Sikkim.
The Sikkim route to Mount Kailash and Mansarovar Lake was opened in 2015, enabling pilgrims to travel the 1500-km long route from Nathu La to Kailash by buses.
The other route to Tibet through Lipulekh pass is open as it is located in the middle section where there is no dispute over boundary between India and China, Geng said.
On the Indian Ministry of External Affairs statement on Friday that construction of the road by Chinese troops would represent a significant change of status quo with “serious” security implications for India, the Chinese official said they have “noted” the statement by India.
“(The statement) evaded the 1890 convention between Great Britain and China relating to Sikkim and Tibet. But it is this convention which has confirmed the alignment of the boundary between the two sides at the Sikkim section. This convention has been recognised by successive Chinese and Indian governments and has been confirmed by the Indian governments in written form,” he said.
“Prime Minister Nehru has affirmed in his letters to Premier Zhou Enlai, that the convention must be observed. That is the basic principle of international law. It is an obligation must be fulfilled by the Indian side,” he said.
The Chinese official cited two letters Nehru wrote to Zhou - first on March 22, 1959, and on September 26, 1959 - to say that the border between Sikkim and Tibet China is defined by the 1890 Convention and demarcated on the ground in 1895.
“There is no dispute on the border between Sikkim and Tibet,” he said, adding that the “trespass” by Indian troops happened at the “defined” Sikkim section.
“This is different from frictions and confrontations between the two sides at undefined boundary,” Geng said.
He also accused India of using Bhutan as a cover, but skirted questions on Bhutan’s protest against the construction of the road, saying the area is Bhutanese territory.
“In order to cover up the illegal entry of the Indian border troops, to distort the fact and even at the expense of Bhutan’s independence and sovereignty, they try to confuse right from wrong, that is futile,” the Chinese official said.
“We have no objection to normal bilateral relations between India and Bhutan but firmly opposed to Indian side infringing up Chinese territory using Bhutan as an excuse. The Bhutan side does not know previously that the Indian troops entered into the Doklam area, which is not in line with what is claimed by the Indian side,” he said.
Geng also claimed that Bhutan “did not know that Indian border troops had entered into the Doklam area which is not in line with what has been claimed by the Indian side.” “We will work with Bhutan without interference of any external forces in maintaining peace and tranquillity of border area and resolving the boundary question,” he said.
Bhutan, however, has no diplomatic ties with China. It is supported militarily and diplomatically by India. And this is not the first time that such a transgression has happened in Doka La. The Chinese forces had in November 2008 destroyed some makeshift Indian army bunkers there.
Defence experts believe China wants to exert its dominance over the Chumbi Valley, which is a part of the southern reaches of Tibet. By claiming the Doka La area, Beijing wants to maximise its geographical advantage so that it can monitor all movements along the India-Bhutan border.
Since the standoff on June 6, when PLA bulldozers destroyed bunkers of the India Army claiming the area belonged to China, Chinese media have carried several pieces warning India for escalating border tension and “reminding” the Indian Army about the 1962 war.