Ratcheting up the rhetoric as it urged India to “abandon impractical illusions”, the Chinese Ministry of Defence Monday warned that it would step up troop deployment and training at the China-India border if Indian troops were not withdrawn immediately from the trijunction point in Bhutan where they have been facing off with troops of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) for more than a month now.
While there was no official response to Beijing’s latest statements, New Delhi maintained that the matter can be resolved peacefully if both sides withdraw their troops and have a bilateral conversation. “The External Affairs Minister’s statement in Parliament clearly states our position. We are looking for a peaceful resolution, there cannot be any unilateral withdrawal,” a government source said.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) too reiterated the demand for withdrawal of Indian troops while announcing the BRICS security summit later this week. Though the MFA remained tightlipped on whether India’s representative at the summit, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, will hold a bilateral with his counterpart and State Councillor, Yang Jiechi, a possible conversation on the sidelines has not been ruled out.
Briefing the press on the 90th anniversary of the PLA on August 1, Chinese MoD spokesperson Wu Qian, referring to the trijunction standoff, said: “The Chinese border troops have taken initial counter measures at the site and will step up targeted deployment and training. India should abandon any impractical illusions. The PLA has demonstrated unshakable determination to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Wu called for a joint effort to maintain peace in border areas and “strongly urged” India to stop the “provocation”. The Chinese MoD also reiterated that the withdrawal of Indian troops from Doklam was the prerequisite to resolve the situation. “It is easier to shake a mountain than the PLA,” Wu said.
The PLA has already carried out two brigade-level exercises, including live-fire exercises, logistics support drills and the testing of a light battle tank, on the Tibetan plateau since the confrontation began mid-June after Beijing claimed Indian troops had stopped the Chinese from constructing a road.
On the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) security meeting scheduled for July 27 and July 28, the Chinese MFA said “meaningful dialogue” will be possible only after Indian troops withdraw. “Once again, we urge the Indian side to recognise the situation and withdraw troops back to the Indian side as soon as possible. This is the prerequisite and basis for any meaningful dialogue between the two sides,” MFA spokesperson Lu Kang said Monday.
Asked whether India and China would hold bilateral talks, Lu said, “On bilateral meetings, I do not have the relevant information right now. As far as we know, in previous meetings, usually it is arranged for the heads of delegations to hold meetings to exchange views on bilateral relations and other international issues.” This is being perceived as a signal on a possible conversation on the margins of the BRICS NSAs meeting.
Indian government sources said there has been no request from either side for a bilateral meeting so far. But they also did not rule out the possibility — just like the informal BRICS leaders’ meeting in Hamburg where Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping had met briefly and had a “conversation” on a “range of issues”.
Answering questions in Rajya Sabha last week, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had said, “If China unilaterally changes the status quo of the trijunction point, then that is a direct challenge to our security. Their demand is that we should withdraw our troops from there. We want that, if we are having a conversation, if we want to have talks, then both should withdraw their armies. From our side, there is no unreasonable demand.” That was the first time when the government had publicly articulated its demand for mutual withdrawal.