Tuesday 24 April 2018

China warns Indian troops to withdraw from contested region

Artillery guns fire during a live-fire drill by the Chinese army in Tibet (China Central Television via AP Video)
Artillery guns fire during a live-fire drill by the Chinese army in Tibet (China Central Television via AP Video)

Beijing has intensified its warnings to Indian troops to get out of a contested region high in the Himalayas where China, India and Bhutan meet.

China said its "restraint has its limits" and publicised live-fire exercises by the army in Tibet.

Indian troops entered the area in the Doklam Plateau in June after New Delhi's ally Bhutan complained a Chinese military construction party was building a road inside Bhutan's territory.

Beijing says Doklam is located in Tibet and that the border dispute between China and Bhutan has nothing to do with India.

It has demanded that Indian troops withdraw unilaterally before any talks can be held on the matter.

On Friday, state broadcaster China Central Television carried video that it said showed an army unit in an unidentified part of Tibet carrying out live-fire exercises "in the past few days".

A commander sitting in a vehicle shouted "three, two, one, fire!" into two telephones and a missile was launched into the sky. Troops were shown loading and firing other artillery.

The report that was also carried in other state media did not mention the dispute with India, and said the unit has already been training for three months.

It appeared to be an attempt to increase pressure on India, however, along with strongly worded statements this week from China's foreign and defence ministries, as well as the ruling Communist Party's mouthpiece.

Chinese defence ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said on Thursday that while Chinese armed forces had shown "utmost goodwill" in the face of the Indian troops and a "high level of restraint... restraint has its limits".

"No country should underestimate the Chinese forces' confidence and capability to safeguard peace and their resolve and willpower to defend national sovereignty, security and development interests," Mr Ren said in a statement.

China and Bhutan have been holding talks over their border dispute since the 1980s and Bhutan feared the road construction would affect the process of drawing their boundary.

India said its troops were attempting to urge the Chinese forces not to change "the status quo" and that any construction would have "serious security implications for India".

In New Delhi on Thursday, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told Parliament that India was concerned about China's actions on the ground in Doklam affecting the tri-junction boundary point between Bhutan, China and India and the India-China border in the region.

She said India would "keep engaging with China to resolve the dispute".

"War is not a solution to anything," Ms Swaraj said. "Patience, control on comments and diplomacy can resolve problems."

Experts in India say that by building the road, China may be able to gain access to a narrow strip of Indian land known as the Siliguri Corridor or Chicken's Neck.

If China was able to block the corridor, it would isolate north-east India from the rest of the country.

On Wednesday, China's Foreign Ministry issued a document setting out what it called "the facts" about Indian troops "trespassing" into Chinese territory, calling on India to immediately and unconditionally withdraw and saying Beijing would work with Bhutan to resolve the boundary issue.

The document says that as of the end of July, more than 40 Indian border troops remained, down from when more than 270 Indian troops with weapons and two bulldozers advanced more than 100 metres into Chinese territory on June 16.

In editorials this week, the official People's Daily said Indian officials and media had "concocted all kinds of groundless excuses" for the incursion.


Press Association

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