Incursions on the China-India border

By Sabena Siddiqui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, July 4, 2017
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Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang [File photo]

An unsettled atmosphere prevails on the China-India border following accusations of trespass by Indian border guards in the Sikkim section, followed by an Indian attempt to obstruct ongoing construction activities by the Chinese frontier forces in the Donglang region.

Demanding an Indian troop withdrawal as a precondition to any further meaningful dialogue, the Chinese Foreign Ministry urged India to carry out a thorough investigation into the matter.

Reaffirming that the Sikkim section of the China-India border is well-defined by treaties, the ministry’s spokesperson, Geng Shuang, pointed out that the Indian government has repeatedly confirmed these settlements in writing and has expressed no objections to them previously.

Urging India to respect boundary treaties and China’s territorial sovereignty to maintain peace and stability, the foreign ministry also informed India through diplomatic channels that the entry of official Indian pilgrims at the Nathu La Pass, linking Sikkim and Tibet, had to be postponed for safety reasons.

Violating the consensus on border issues and agreements already in place between the Chinese and Indian governments is a worrisome development given the fact there is no officially-demarcated borderline.

Both countries usually work around their understanding of the “Line of Actual Control.” Keeping the fuzziness of this approach in mind, troops from both sides do stray across at times. However, this time round the transgression is more serious than ever before.

Unfortunately, the Indian media fed the fire by upping the ante with counter-allegations and a wilful misrepresentation of the facts.

As the face-off continued, China’s Ministry of National Defence once again demanded India remove its trespassing troops from the Sikkim section, with spokesperson Senior Colonel Wu Qian declared: "Our border guards have taken necessary measures in response and they will resolutely preserve the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Justifying the road construction activities on Chinese territory, the colonel criticized the Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat’s recent remark that the "Indian Army is fully ready for a two-and-a-half front war." The MOD spokesperson advised those responsible to "learn from the history and stop airing such dangerous, belligerent remarks."

Legally, the evidence of China’s claim is found in article one of the Sino-British Treaty, formally titled the Convention between Great Britain and China relating to Sikkim and Tibet and signed between British viceroy Lord Lansdowne and Chinese Lieutenant Governor Sheng Tai in 1890. Detailing the boundary demarcation, this legal document has been adhered to by both India and China up till now as a settlement of disputes along their 3,488-km boundary.

The description of the boundaries is as follows: “The boundary of Sikkim and Tibet shall be the crest of the mountain range separating the waters flowing into the Sikkim Teesta and [those] flowing into the Tibetan Mochu and northwards into other rivers of Tibet. The line commences at Mount Gipmochi on the Bhutan frontier, and follows the above-mentioned parting of the waters to the point where it meets Nepal’s territory.”

There should not be any dispute in the Doklam (Donglang) area, as the Indian troops transgressed land containing the necessary separation of water flows, signifying it is Chinese territory. Holding some strategic importance, the region overlooks the Siliguri Corridor linking Northeast India to the rest of the country, colloquially known as the “chicken’s neck.”

However, the trespass is a clear violation of international law and basic norms governing international relations and a breach of commitment previously honored by successive Indian governments. Explaining that there has been no dispute over Donglong which belongs to China, and not to India or Bhutan, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang mentioned that pictures depicting the pattern of trespass would be available for perusal on the ministry’s website.

Right now, the grey area is why India is attempting to alter its stance on already settled border issues. Interestingly, these “border tensions” have been generated over the land which India has conceded belongs to Bhutan, but now seeks to step in to “free it.”

The current Sino-Indian military face-off is the first confrontation worth mentioning in decades. Notwithstanding the ongoing scenario, India attended the first SCO plenary held in Dalian, in northeast China, to discuss anti-terrorism and border control mechanisms.

Ostensibly, relations between India and China remain unaffected and the air can be cleared with bilateral dialogue, important to end any mutual distrust regarding an already settled issue. It is believed that a meeting between President Xi and Indian Prime Minister Modi may be possible on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg on July 7-8.

Having said that, China’s stance remains that the channels of communication are un-impeded but India has to retreat.

The author is a geopolitical analyst at think tank Katehon, Pakistan.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

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