India says no troop withdrawal at Doklam amid border standoff
India on Wednesday rejected China’s claim that the number of troops engaged in the Doklam standoff had fallen and insisted that peace and tranquillity at the border are an “important requisite” for smooth development of ties.
China’s foreign ministry issued a 15-page statement which said Indian troop numbers in the Donglang or Doklam region had fallen from a peak of more than 400 to about 40 at the end of July.
The statement also floated the idea that New Delhi and Beijing should sign a new boundary convention to replace the 1890 “Convention between Great Britain and China Relating to Sikkim and Tibet” that is said to have demarcated the Sikkim boundary.
Hours after China pointed to the thinning out of troops, Indian government sources said there had been no withdrawal of Indian forces and the position on the ground remained unchanged.
“Neither has the Indian Army pulled back any troops nor has the force observed any withdrawal by the Chinese side. The status remains the same,” a source said.
The sources said around 350 Indian troops have been deployed at Doklam for the past six weeks.
Responding to China’s statement which contended the face-off at Doklam was triggered in June by Indian troops “trespassing” into Chinese territory, the external affairs ministry spokesperson said: “India’s position on this issue and related facts have been articulated in our press statement of June 30, 2017.
“India considers that peace and tranquillity in the India-China border areas is an important prerequisite for smooth development of our bilateral relations with China.”
The Indian statement of June 30 – the only official readout on the standoff that is in its second month – had expressed New Delhi’s concern at Beijing’s attempt to build a road in the India-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction that would “represent a significant change of status quo with serious security implications”.
But the Chinese foreign ministry contended it had informed India in advance about its road building activity in Doklam and also accused India of interfering in the Bhutan-China boundary issue. “The China-Bhutan boundary issue is one between China and Bhutan. It has nothing to do with India. As a third party, India has no right to interfere in or impede the boundary talks between China and Bhutan, still less the right to make territorial claims on Bhutan’s behalf,” the statement said.
India has asserted that China’s road construction activity will change the status quo and goes against an understanding reached by the two sides in 2012 that the “tri-junction boundary points between India, China and third countries will be finalised in consultation with the concerned countries”.
Beijing referred to the 1890 convention and a “non-paper” provided by the Indian side during a May 10, 2006 meeting of the Special Representatives on the boundary issue to back up its claims. “Both sides agree on the boundary alignment in the Sikkim Sector,” the Chinese statement quoted the non-paper as saying.
A non-paper is an informal document, usually without explicit attribution, used in diplomatic negotiations. It is rare for the contents of such documents to be officially made public by either party involved in negotiations.
In a first, the Chinese statement also floated the idea that New Delhi and Beijing should sign a new boundary convention to replace the 1890 “Convention between Great Britain and China Relating to Sikkim and Tibet”.
The face-off began on June 16, when Indian troops opposed the building of a road by Chinese forces at Donglang or Doklam, which is under China’s control but claimed by Bhutan.
The Chinese statement said the boundary in Sikkim sector “has long been delimited by the 1890 convention” and even the signing of a new convention would “in no way” alter the nature of the boundary in the region.
The more than 2,500-word statement was the latest in the series of steps by the Chinese side blaming India for the impasse.
Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj has said both sides should pull back their troops before any talks but China has set the unilateral withdrawal of Indian troops from Donglang as a pre-condition for a dialogue.