The last few days have seen some significant development in the crisis between India and China over the standoff between the armies of both nations in the Doklam area in the Sikkim sector close to the India-China-Bhutan tri-junction boundary. The standoff began on June 16 when Indian troops went into the area that overlooks the ‘Chicken’s Neck’, a region of strategic importance to India, when China began building a road there. The Chicken’s Neck is a thin stretch that connects the rest of India to the north-eastern states.
Indian troops reduced, claims China
It began on August 1 when China claimed in a 15-page ‘fact-sheet’ on the ongoing crisis that India’s troops had come down from 400 in June to around 40 in July.
"Over 400 people at one point, have put up three tents and advanced over 180 metres into the Chinese territory. As of the end of July, there were still over 40 Indian border troops and one bulldozer illegally staying in the Chinese territory," the document released by the Chinese Foreign Affairs ministry read.
India counters claim
Countering Chinese contention, sources in New Delhi maintained that around 350 Indian Army personnel have been in Dokalam for last six weeks after China tried to build a road in the area, triggering the standoff. Beijing further accused Indian troops of crossing over into the Chinese side in the region where it was building a road. India claims the area as Bhutanese territory and not Chinese, and has conveyed to the Chinese government that the road construction would represent a significant change of status quo with serious security implications for it.
India’s response to China’s accusations was short and crisp. PTI reported citing top sources in New Delhi that it was maintaining "status quo" at Dokalam for past six weeks and there had been no reduction in the number of troops stationed there. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had said last month that both sides should first pull back their troops for any talks to take place. China, on the other hand, has set withdrawal of Indian troops as precondition for any dialogue.
Working to resolve issue diplomatically, says Sushma Swaraj
On Thursday, the External Affairs minister spelt out the government’s stand on the issue in Parliament. Rejecting the demand by some opposition parties to step up military presence along the border where it is locked in a face-off with China, Swaraj said wisdom lay in resolving the issue diplomatically. “War is never the solution to a dispute. Wisdom is to resolve issues diplomatically,” she said in Rajya Sabha while replying to a discussion on "India's foreign policy and engagement with strategic partners."
In a statement she read out on the Doklam situation, Swaraj said that India’s concerns emanate from Chinese action on the ground which have implications for the determination of the tri-junction boundary point between India, China and Bhutan and the alignment of India-China boundary in the Sikkim sector.
“Both these aspects of tri-junction points and India-China boundary alignment in the Sikkim sector had been earlier addressed in a written common understanding reached between the Special Representatives of India and China on the boundary question in December 2012. Point 13 of the common understanding states that "The tri-junction boundary points between India, China and third countries will be finalised in consultation with the concerned countries." Since 2012 we have not held any discussion on the tri-junction with Bhutan. The Chinese action in the Doklam area is therefore of concern,” she said.
The minister further said that India always believes peace and tranquility in India-China border areas is important prerequisite for smooth development of bilateral relations. “We will continue to engage with Chinese side through diplomatic channels to find a mutually acceptable solution," she said.
Show willingness for peace through deeds: China’s Foreign Min
Minutes after the minister’s statement in Parliament, China said India should show through deeds its willingness to maintain peace at the border and claimed that 48 Indian soldiers were at Doklam area backed by a "large number" of troops at the border to halt Chinese attempts to build a road on its side of the boundary.
Reacting to External Affairs Ministry statement that the peace and tranquillity of the India-China boundary constitutes the important prerequisite for the smooth development of bilateral relations, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said India should also show its words in "deeds".
"Indian side is always keeping 'peace' on the tip of its tongue. But we should not only listen to its words but also heed its deeds," Geng said in the statement.
Geng said the action of the Indian side amounts to that of "irresponsibility and recklessness." He said that until yesterday, "there were 48 Indian soldiers and one bulldozer" in Doklam area, describing it as illegal intrusion into Chinese territory. "In addition, there are still a large number of Indian armed forces congregating on the boundary and on the Indian side of the boundary," Geng said.
"No matter how many Indian border troops illegally trespassed the boundary and still stay in the Chinese territory, it will not alter the nature of severely violating China's territorial integrity and contravening the UN Charter. This incident is illegal under the international law. The Indian side should bear corresponding responsibilities," the spokesman said.
Geng repeated that on June 18 about 270 Indian troops "advanced more than 100 meters into the Chinese territory to obstruct the road building of the Chinese side."
Our restraint has a bottomline: China’s Defence Min
China’s Defence Ministry said that it has shown "utmost goodwill" over the prolonged military standoff with India in the Sikkim sector but warned that its "restraint" has a "bottom line". The reaction came late last night following Indian External Affairs Ministry’s statement that peace and tranquillity of the India-China boundary constitutes the important prerequisite for the smooth development of bilateral relations.
Since the incident occurred, China has shown utmost goodwill and sought to communicate with India through diplomatic channels to resolve the incident. Chinese armed forces have also shown a high level of restraint with an eye to the general bilateral relations and the regional peace and stability," the spokesperson said, according to report in the state-run Xinhua news agency.
"However, goodwill has its principles and restraint has its bottom line," he added.
The spokesperson urged the Indian side to give up the "illusion of its delaying tactic, as no country should underestimate the Chinese forces' confidence and capability to safeguard peace and their resolve and willpower to defend national sovereignty, security and development interests".
The spokesperson said the Chinese armed forces will resolutely protect the country's territorial sovereignty and security interests.