Where is the India-China standoff heading?

Last Updated: Tue, Jul 04, 2017 11:02 hrs
Army personnel along the India-China border in Arunachal Pradesh

Army Chief General Bipin Rawat reached Sikkim last week amid rising tensions between the Indian and Chinese army along the border in Sikkim. Earlier in June, there was a scuffle between Indian troops and personnel of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

The Army Chief was in Gangtok last Thursday in the wake of a stand-off between Indian troops and Chinese army. The latest incident has to do with a narrow and strategic tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan. As India Today reported, sources said that China removed a bunker that belonged to the Indian Army located at that junction in Sikkim by using a bulldozer after the Indian side refused to comply with its request.

The incident involving the bunker was just the latest escalation. On Friday, India expressed concern over China constructing a road in the Doklam; an area claimed as "sovereign territory" by China in the Sikkim sector of the India-China border. The Doklam plateau is situated in a place where boundaries of Bhutan, India and China meet.

The construction of this road is a long-term problem for India. If it is completed, it will be a strategic win for China as they will then be closer to the Indian army’s position in a particularly vulnerable area called the Siliguri corridor.

India needs to ensure that this corridor remains open. It sits between Bangladesh in the south and China in the north. A road constructed by China here would hamper the movement of Indian troops and equipment in case of a conflict as it will cut off the North East. Much of the issue revolves around geography. Near the Doklam plateau, China has increased its strategic assets over the years.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in a statement said “Conveyed to China that road construction would represent significant change of status quo with security implications for India. (It is) important that consensus on border issue between India and China through Special Representatives process is scrupulously respected.”

In the wake of India’s concern over the construction of the road, the Chinese government on Sunday cancelled a trip of Indian journalists to Tibet; which is a tradition where Indian journalists travel to Tibet at the invitation of the Chinese government.

Bhutan issued a demarche to China over the construction of the road towards its Army camp. It had asked Beijing to stop the work immediately. The Ambassador of Bhutan to India, Vetsop Namgyel told PTI, “We have issued a demarche to China through its diplomatic mission here. Recently, the Chinese army (People's Liberation Army) started construction of a road towards Bhutanese Army camp at Zomphlri in Doklam area which is in violation of an agreement between the two countries.”

Chinese media did not take too kindly to the developments. The widely read Global Times in its Chinese edition said that Sikkim was incorporated into India in 1975 –

“The original border between China and Sikkim was already demarcated, and the government of India later did not object to that border. Most of the border disputes between the two sides often occur in the western part, in the eastern part of the border have occurred only a few times, and in the Sikkim section have hardly ever occurred. In 2006 the two sides reopened the Sikkim Nathu La pass, because of no border dispute there.”

The Hindu editorial states that current stand-off does not benefit both sides –

“The boundary stand-off with China at the Doka La tri-junction with Bhutan is by all accounts unprecedented; it demands calmer counsel on all sides. These issues have to be addressed through sustained dialogue. In the immediate term, however, talks must focus on defusing the tensions at the tri-junction.”

“The Indian government has been wise to avoid escalation in the face of China’s aggressive barrage, but that should not stop it from communicating its position in more discreet ways.”

On Sunday, China’s official news agency asked New Delhi not to distract from the consensus on developing bilateral relations. The position being asking Indian troops to withdraw from the area to end the current stand-off, the Xinhua news agency said, “It is well known that the Sikkim section of the China-India boundary has been demarcated by the 1890 Sino-British treaty”.

Speaking specifically to the Sikkim stand-off, the news agency said, “How can we influence others? In fact, it is the Indian side that has ignored international law and seriously interfered with China's construction activities.”

As India and China continue their stand-off, India Today reports on how a Chinese strategic expert; Liu Zongyi, a senior fellow of Shanghai Institutes for International Studies believed Delhi was emboldened to tackle China following the meeting between Prime Minister Modi and US President Trump. Writing in the influential party-run Global Times, he states –

“Because the border face-off and the announcement of the anti-dumping probe [against China] occurred around the same time as Modi's two-day visit to the US, people link India's bravura with the Modi-Trump meeting.” “Indian troops crossed the undisputed Sikkim section of the China-India border and impeded Chinese workers from building roads a few days before Modi's visit to the US… aimed to demonstrate to the US India's firm determination to constrain China's rise.”

In a column for NDTV, former BJP MP Dr. Chandan Mitra writes –

“Clear and irrefutable details of precisely what happened along the border are not forthcoming despite the Chinese media's blatantly untruthful jibe that the Indian military establishment "spoon feeds" our media without disclosing the facts.” “…India needs to clearly size up China's Big Power aspirations. Beijing has always aspired to be the Asian hegemon. It is intensely distrustful of its two economically powerful neighbors.”

Writing for the Hindustan Times, Abhijnan Rej opines that the bigger picture in terms of foreign policy needs to be looked at –

“As the standoff between Indian and Chinese troops in the India-China-Bhutan tri-junction continues, it is important to take a step back and look at the problem through the prism of the larger foreign-policy stakes for India at play.”

“Whether it is constructing roads through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir or drowning Sri Lanka in debt in order to gain eventual political leverage, Chinese push-back of Indian influence – and interests – in the region in the recent years has been alarming.”

He warns against India giving over its power and responsibilities to Bhutan –

“…if India was to abdicate its responsibilities towards Bhutan, India’s other neighbors will, in effect, be told that India’s bark is far worse than India’s bite – and that relying on India as a countervailing force to the Chinese juggernaut is foolish. That surely cannot be good for India’s elusive pursuit of regional primacy.”

The Tribune in a report, quoted a Chinese expert responding to Arun Jaitley’s comments of India and the situation being different today from 1962, Wang Dehua, a professor at the Shanghai Municipal Centre for International Studies said, “There could be a chance of war if the recent conflict between China and India is not handled properly, observers said, noting that China will resolutely defend its territory and safeguard the border.”

As tensions mount, the Indian army moved more troops to Doka La, in what is now the longest row with China since 1962.



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