China on Wednesday dialed up the temperature on the border, destroying an Indian army bunker along the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction, and issuing dire warnings through its State-run media.
It also announced that whether or not the small batch of pilgrims headed for the annual Mansarovar yatra through Nathu La in Sikkim would be allowed depended on whether India “corrects its errors.” Nathu La was opened in 2015. Pilgrims taking the older route through Uttarakhand have not been stopped so far.
The confrontation began more than 12 days ago over a road building project in an area that is claimed by both Bhutan and China. Scuffles between Indian and Chinese soldiers have been reported. On Tuesday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced that, “Recently, the Indian border guards in the Sino-Indian border Sikkim section crossed the border into the territory of China, obstructed the Chinese border troops in the Donglong area from conducting normal activities.
Faced with such aggressive posturing, what should India do? “India should stand on its stance over the alignment of the International border,” says General (retd) JS Bajwa, the editor of Indian Defence Review. Sikkim signed a treaty with Tibet in the last decade of the 19th century, and by 1903 it was in place… The dispute is that as per the Indians, the western trijunction of Sikkim, Bhutan and China, rather Tibet, is at a place called Dokala. But the Chinese say it is further down south.
“Without upping the ante, we should calmly reiterate that this should be resolved through a diplomatic discussion, and China should not upset the status quo.”
Dismissing the chances of an escalation, Bajwa says: “No firing going to be taking place, it is limited to just some jostling or pushing around. We just need to stick to our stand.”
Former Indian Ambassador to China Ashok K Kantha agrees. “There are bilateral differences on the interpretation of the watershed boundary in this sector. It is disturbing that China has expanded the differences by suspending Kailash Mansarovar Yatra.”
China termed the road construction in Sikkim sector as “legitimate”, asserting that it was being built on their territory
China also warned India that future visits of its pilgrims to Kailash Mansarovar through Nathu La pass will depend on whether it will “correct its errors”
Taking a dig at India, Chinese Foreign Ministry said Bhutan is a universally recognised sovereign country and no third party should interfere
On the backdrop of India-US meet, China defended Pakistan, saying Islamabad was at frontlines of fight against terrorism
The confrontation between the Chinese and Indian sides began over 12 days ago over a road project in an area claimed by both Bhutan and China.
On Tuesday, the Chinese foreign ministry had said, “China has taken corresponding measures (on alleged trespassing by Indian troops in its territory). At the same time, for security reasons, the Chinese side had to suspend the arrangement of the Indian official pilgrimage group through at Nathu La pass.”
“China avoids making an issue of border disputes, which has indulged India’s unruly provocations. This time the Indian side needs to be taught the rules,” threatened an editorial in the Global Times. “India cannot afford a showdown with China on border issues. It lags far behind China in terms of national strength and the so-called strategic support for it from the US is superficial...,” it added sanctimoniously.
Former Indian ambassador to China Ashok K Kantha says, “While both India and China broadly agree on the alignment of the boundary in the Sikkim sector, there are differences on the tri-junction point, which also involves Bhutan. There are also bilateral differences with China on the interpretation of the watershed boundary in this sector. This is a regrettable and unwarranted action by China. The onus is on China to de-escalate, avoid provocation and address the issue through talks.”
General Bajwa believes that the stopping of pilgrims at Nathu La exposes China diplomatically.
“They have backtracked out of a treaty, which just shows they are trying to push India into a corner. India should not get into that corner. If they unilaterally abrogate a treaty or an agreement ... it shows their diplomacy in a very poor light. If they unilaterally close the border without any warning like this, it shows that you are not a country that can be trusted with agreements. Basically, they are trying to say that America can’t help you if we finger you here. We should insist that the status quo should be altered,” says General Bajwa.