China’s attempt to change status quo led to Doklam: Indian envoy

India’s ambassador Gautam Bambawale said New Delhi will oppose the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor but won’t let the difference over Belt and Road become a dispute with Beijing.

india Updated: Mar 24, 2018 20:51 IST
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the 2017 BRICS Summit in Xiamen, Fujian province, China, September 5, 2017.(Reuters File Photo)

Any attempt by China to change the status quo along the Indian border may lead to another Doklam-like stand-off, India’s envoy Gautam Bambawale has said, adding that the best way to prevent such incidents is through candid and frank talks.

In an interview to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, Bambwale said the un-demarcated border between India and China is “the most serious problem between the two countries” and they need to redefine the boundary soon.

Bambawale said New Delhi will oppose the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) but won’t let the difference over Belt and Road become a dispute with Beijing. He also downplayed the reports of India joining the bloc of the US, Japan and Australia to counter China.

The two militaries were locked in a 73-day stand-off at Doklam in the eastern sector of their border last year. The issue was resolved in August, only after souring the bilateral ties.

“In order to maintain the peace and tranquillity (along India-China border), there are certain areas, certain sectors which are very sensitive, where we must not change the status quo. If anyone changes the status quo, it will lead to a situation like what happened in Doklam,” Bambawale said in the interview published on Saturday.

“The Chinese military changed the status quo in the Doklam area and therefore India reacted to it. Ours was a reaction to the change in the status quo by the Chinese military.

“... when incidents like Doklam happened last year, it meant that we were not frank and candid enough with each other. So we need to increase the level of frankness.

“In the sense that if the Chinese military are going to build a road, they must tell us ‘we are going to build a road’. If we do not agree to it then we can reply that, ‘look, you’re changing the status quo. Please don’t do it. This is a very very sensitive area’,” he said.

India is not worried about China’s attempts to establish close ties with South Asian countries as New Delhi has strong relations with its neighbours, Bambawale said.

The South Asian countries are free to have ties with any country including China, he said.

“India has its own relationships with all these countries. These are very strong relationships and India is also doing a lot of projects in all these countries, such as the Maldives, Nepal or Sri Lanka,” he said in an interview to Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.

“Our relationships with these countries are very strong, they are historical, people-to-people contacts,” the envoy said, citing example of India and Nepal having open borders.

There is an open border between Nepal and India so people can come to India without any visa, and the reverse is also the case, he said.

“So, we have very strong relationships with all these countries and we are confident that this relationship will become even stronger and richer in the coming months and years. I don’t think we are worried about what China is doing. Those countries are free to have relationships with any third country including China,” Bambawale said.

“When we talk about development projects or connectivity projects, they must be transparent, fair and equal. There are certain internationally accepted norms for such projects,” he said, in an apparent reference to the criticism that the BRI projects lack transparency.

“If a project meets those norms, we will be happy to take part in it. One of the norms is the project should not violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a country. Unfortunately, there is this thing called CPEC, which is called a flagship project of BRI, violates India’s sovereignty and territory integrity. Therefore, we oppose it,” he said.

The CPEC traverses through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

India follows the principle of not “letting differences of opinion becoming disputes, of doing projects which are not opaque but open; transparent and meet ecological and environmental standards; does not violate anyone’s territorial integrity, then we will find a situation where the Chinese dragon and the Indian elephant will actually be dancing together,” Bambawale said.

He played down the talk of India-China rivalry saying: “As far as India is concerned, India does not look upon China as a rival or a competitor. We look upon China as a partner in progress and development”.

He referred to historically high bilateral trade between the two countries which touched $84.5 billion last year.

Bambawale also cited examples of Bollywood films like Dangal becoming a huge hit in China while Chinese phone maker Xiaomi becoming the largest mobile handset seller in India.

The success of the films shows that Chinese people are open to watching Bollywood movies, the envoy said.

“I think from watching those movies they understand India better and by understanding each other better, we will be able to have greater trust between each other. That’s why these examples are very important,” he said.

India has no concerns about China’s rise. “In fact, India looks at China’s rise as something which also gives us encouragement that India can also do at least some of the things that China has done, which is to develop economically and develop rapidly,” he said.

To a question about China’s concerns over the US, India, Japan and Australia forming a quadrilateral grouping, Bombawale said India is too big to be a part of any alliance.

“As far as the four countries are concerned, India has never been a part of any alliance. Countries like India and China are too big to be a part of any alliance. We both have very independent policies; domestic policies as well as foreign policies,” the envoy said.

India will work with all countries in the world to improve and increase its interests.

“Wherever our interests converge, we will work together like on climate change and environment protection. India and China work very closely together on many international issues like environmental protection and counter-terrorism. We will continue to work with anyone, where we find that there is a synergy. We will work with China definitely,” Bambawale said.

He also declined to comment on the constitutional amendment removing the two-term limit for Chinese President Xi Jinping, paving the way for a life-long tenure.

“The removal of the term limits and new team for foreign affairs and all that is China’s internal matter; I don’t want to say anything on that. That is for China and the people of China to decide. We only look upon it as something which encourages us to do better in India’s economic development, India’s economic progress and social progress,” he said.

The envoy said that there are hosts of bilateral meetings lined-up, including the one between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Summit in June.

Both China and India are re-emerging on the international stage and becoming very important players, Bambawale said.

“Many centuries ago in the 1600 and 1700s, both China and India were very important economic powers in the world. Now in the 21st century, we are seeing a re-emergence of both China and India to some extent on the world stage from a geo-political and geo-economic point of view,” he added.

First Published: Mar 24, 2018 17:30 IST