Beijing accuses India of betrayal, increased Chinese activity in Indian Ocean
China accused India of “betraying” a British-era territorial understanding over their border in Sikkim, intensifying a diplomatic row that could overshadow talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping should the two meet on the sidelines of a G20 meeting in Germany this week.
Concerns over Chinese military deployment have started mounting, with Indian navy sources reporting on Monday an increase in activity by Chinese vessels in the Indian ocean region. An intelligence-gathering ship, Haiwingxing, was spotted in Indian Ocean late last month, weeks after the Sikkim impasse began.
Troops from the two countries are facing off near the border in Sikkim after the Chinese army tried to build a road in the sensitive Doklam, a disputed region between China and Bhutan, which Beijing also refers to as Donglang. The episode is one of the longest showdown the two sides have had since fighting a war in 1962, and experts in Beijing believe the issue could lead to a full-blown military confrontation.
The situation could dominate a possible informal meeting between Modi and Xi, on the sidelines of a G20 gathering in Hamburg.
On Monday, the Chinese foreign ministry cited correspondence between former PM Jawaharlal Nehru and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai to claim that India “endorsed” the 1890 Sino-British treaty on Sikkim, and said the ongoing “trespass” by Indian troops is a “betrayal” of the position taken by New Delhi since then.
“Former Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru endorsed the 1890 Sino-British Treaty on Sikkim in a letter to the then Chinese counterpart Zhou Enlai in 1959. Successive Indian governments have also endorsed this,” Geng Shuang, ministry of foreign affairs (MFA) spokesperson, said at the regular ministry briefing.
“The India-China boundary in the Sikkim section is well demarcated. The action taken by India is a betrayal of the position taken by the Indian governments,” Geng said, adding that India needs to follow the treaty and pull back troops immediately from Doka La.
The region is where the borders of the three countries — India, China and Bhutan — meet.
Doka La is located on the margins of the Doklam plateau.
India has consistently disputed the Chinese reference to the 1890 treaty, saying that the two countries decided in 2012 that boundary points between India and China where another country is involved — in this case Bhutan — will be finalised in consultation with the third nation.
Ties between both countries have historically been fragile, with territorial disputes on India’s eastern front — regions such as Aksai Chin and Arunachal — being the major cause of friction.
Heightened tensions were underscored by the sightings of Chinese naval assets in Indian Ocean. India’s naval satellites, surveillance planes and surface warships sighted Luyang III class destroyers, hydrographic research vessels and tankers. The presence of a submarine was also established by the sighting of Chongmingdao, a Chinese navy submarine support vessel.
In a briefing on Monday, Geng brushed aside India’s contention and said New Delhi was using Bhutan as a “cover up” to justify the “illegal entry” of its soldiers in the Doklam.
Geng also said that a demarche that Bhutan sent to China against the road construction was done at India’s insistence.
“In order to cover up the illegal entry of the Indian border troops, to distort the fact and even at the expense of Bhutan’s independence and sovereignty, they try to confuse right from wrong, that is futile,” he said.
The foreign ministry spokesperson also dismissed Indian defence minister Arun Jaitley’s remark that the current India was different from the India of 1962, which lost the Sino-India war. Jaitley’s statement was in itself a response to a Chinese army spokesperson saying that New Delhi should “remember historical lessons”.
“He is right in saying that India in 2017 is different from 1962, just like China is also different,” the Chinese foreign ministry official said on Monday, without elaborating on what it meant.
(With inputs from HTC, New Delhi)