Tension is mounting on the Sikkim border where Indian and Chinese troops are locked in a standoff. Beijing Wednesdayupped the ante, telling New Delhi to “correct its errors” before it considers reopening the Nathu La Pass for Kailash Mansarovar pilgrims. Beijing also described the construction of a border road as “legitimate”, maintaining that it was being built on Chinese territory that does not belong to India or Bhutan and no other country had the right to interfere.
Two days ago, China lodged protests with India through diplomatic channels, alleging that Indian border troops had crossed the Sino-Indian boundary in Sikkim and were “obstructing Chinese border troops’ normal activities in Doklam”. The protest was lodged on the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi was meeting President Donald Trump at the White House.
In New Delhi, PTI quoted official sources saying China has removed an old bunker of the Indian Army located at the tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan in Sikkim by using a bulldozer after the Indian side refused to accede to its request.
China is believed to have not taken kindly to India building new bunkers and upgrading older ones along the border in Sikkim to augment its defences against the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), sources said. Of the 3,488-km-long India-China border, a 220-km section falls in Sikkim.
Beijing is also upset with New Delhi over the recent visit of the Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh, the sources said.
The Sikkim government has also sent a report to the central government giving details of the situation along the border following the standoff.
The first batch of Kailash Mansarovar pilgrims comprising about 50 people returned from the Nathu La border post as the standoff between India and China continued. The second batch of pilgrims did not move from Gangtok and pilgrims were told to go home as the Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage is unlikely to continue this year via Nathu La. The Sikkim route to Mansarovar, which is in Tibet, was thrown open to the public in 2015.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang indicated that the point of friction was in the Donglong (Doklam) region, which he stressed belonged to China indisputably.
“It is reported that the incidents happened at Donglong, (that it) is part of the disputed territory between China and Bhutan. The region is part of China and is indisputable. China’s construction is a legitimate activity. If India wants to raise an issue about it, I would say that it doesn’t belong to India and neither does it belong to Bhutan,” he said.
According to Lu, Indian troops crossed the boundary on the Sikkim side into Chinese territory. “This is different to what was before in India-China boundary. Bhutan is an internationally recognised country and its sovereignty is to be respected. Even if the boundary is delimited, no third party should interfere and make irresponsible comments,” he said.
To a query on whether he inferred that India was interfering in Bhutan, Lu said, “Only Indian side can judge if they are interfering with the internal affairs of Bhutan. If any third party out of hidden agenda interfere, it is disrespect to the sovereignty of Bhutan. We don’t want to see this as Bhutan is a country entitled to sovereignty by the international community.”
On the resumption of pilgrim travel via the Nathu La Pass, Lu said, “Now the suspension of the same is an emergency response to the situation there. I want to stress that the resumption of pilgrims’ pass requires necessary atmosphere and conditions. So the liability of the same totally lies on Indian side and when it will be reopened depends on the when or whether the Indian side will correct its errors.”
An opinion article in state-run Global Times stated that India needed to be be “taught rules” of handling boundary disputes. “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. 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,” the article stated.