Any change of status quo along the India-China border may lead to another Dokalam-like crisis, India's envoy here has cautioned even as he asserted there was "no change" at the standoff site even though the PLA may be reinforcing its troops "well behind the sensitive area".
Gautam Bambawale said though "no change" has taken place in the standoff site at Dokalam after it was resolved last year, he squarely blamed China for the crisis saying it happened because Beijing tried to alter the "status quo" which it should not have.
The 73-day standoff ended on August 28 last year after China agreed to halt the road building activities by PLA troops at Dokalam in Sikkim sector.
"No, I can tell you that you in Dokalam area, which we call close proximity or sometimes the face-off site, the area where there was close confrontation or close proximity between Indian and Chinese military troops, that there is no change taking place today," Bambawale said reacting to reports of the Chinese military stepping up infrastructure build-up in the area.
"Maybe behind, the Chinese may be putting more military barracks to put in more soldiers, but that is well behind the sensitive area," he said in a wide-ranging interview to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.
"Those are the things you're free to do and we are also free to do, because you're doing it inside your territory and we are doing it inside our territory," he said.
Indian troops intervened to stop Chinese soldiers from building a road close to India's narrow 'Chicken's Neck' corridor that connects the northeastern states. Besides China, the area is also claimed by Bhutan.
Recent reports said the Chinese military is trying to work around or outflank Indian troops in the Dokalam area.
Bambawale defended India's decision to stop Chinese troops from building the road saying no attempt should be made to change the status quo.
"If anyone changes the status quo, it will lead to a situation like what happened in Dokalam. I can tell you very frankly and you can quote me on this. The Chinese military changed the status quo in the Dokalam area and therefore India reacted to it. Ours was a reaction to the change in the status quo by the Chinese military," he said, adding that China should inform India about such initiatives in sensitive areas.
He called for delineation of the 3,488-km Line of Actual Control (LAC) which China has refused earlier.
"The India-China boundary is un-demarcated and un-delineated, so we have to talk to each other to delineate and demarcate it, which means to draw the boundary line. Now in the meantime, while we are discussing where the boundary will lie, both China and India have agreed that we should maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas," he said.
He said at present both countries are having "a lot of dialogue" especially at the political level, and also at the economic level, as he welcomed Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's recent comments that the Indian elephant and the Chinese dragon must not fight but dance together.
He also said Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit China to take part in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation(SCO) in June during which there will "definitely" be a bilateral meeting between him and President Xi Jinping.
The summit is due to be held in the Chinese city of Qingdao from June 9-10.
"During that, we will definitely have bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jinping. And before that happens we want to have a lot of other meetings," Bambawale said.
"We will have a whole series of meetings in the next few weeks and months," he said adding that the boundary officials of both the countries will also meet.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman recently said she will visit China next month. The foreign ministers of the SCO countries are also due to meet before the summit.
About the forays being made by China into India's neighbourhood, he said New Delhi is not worried about it as it has strong relationships with its neighbours.
He also said South Asian countries are free to have relationships with any country including China.
"Let me tell you very clearly that India has its own relationships with all these countries. These are very strong relationships and India is also doing a lot of projects in all these countries, such as the Maldives, Nepal or Sri Lanka," he said.
He also spoke of India's strong reservations about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which is part of China's multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and called for candid talks to resolve the differences.
"When we talk about development projects or connectivity projects, they must be transparent, fair and equal. There are certain internationally accepted norms for such projects," he said in apparent reference to criticism that the BRI projects lacks transparency.
"If a project meets those norms, we will be happy to take part in it. One of the norms is the project should not violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a country. Unfortunately, there is this thing called CPEC, which is called a flagship project of BRI, which violates India's sovereignty and territory integrity. Therefore, we oppose it," he said.
The USD 50 billion CPEC traverses through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).