Modi, Xi may discuss border standoff this week

NAYANIMA BASU New Delhi | Updated on January 11, 2018


Talks on sidelines of G20 meet in Hamburg offer glimmer of hope on resolving escalating tension

A brief meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping is probably the only glimmer of hope as India and China stand on the brink of a major combat in the Sikkim sector of the China-India boundary.

Both leaders are expected to meet on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg on July 7-8 as tensions escalate between the two, sources told BusinessLine requesting anonymity.

The recent standoff, which is being seen by many as the worst since 1962, started on June 16, after a construction party of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) entered the Doklam area in an effort to build a road in the region. Subsequently, the matter was discussed by both sides during a Border Personnel Meeting at Nathu La on June 20.

However, according to sources, diplomatic channels have been activated, wherein an early meeting of the Special Representatives on the border settlement issue has been sought.

The tri-junction area in Sikkim is the only region along the Sino-India border where India has a strategic advantage over China due to its location. This is the only area where the Indian side is higher than the Chinese side, which falls into a valley, while the other side is Bhutan. As a result, India is concerned over the attempt made by the Chinese government to make an elevated road there.

“This has huge political and economic ramifications. This area is known for ULFA, Bodoland and thus it has huge strategic threat. Our ties with Bhutan are also at stake here. Although Bhutan has questioned the Chinese move, they are not vociferous about it.

“The government has to begin back channel diplomatic talks. Else, it will become more complex,” said Phunchok Stobdan, India’s former Ambassador to Central Asia.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has said that it is “deeply concerned” at the recent moves taken by the Chinese government because the construction of such a road would be tantamount to change in status quo with “serious security implications” for India.

While India has said it had reached an agreement in 2012 that the tri-junction boundary points between India, China and third countries will be finalised in consultation with the concerned countries, Beijing has highlighted that the Sikkim section of the China-India boundary has been defined by the Convention Between Great Britain and China Relating to Sikkim and Tibet (1890).

“This incident is quite serious in nature … Current actions by the Indian side undoubtedly run counter to the Indian government's long-standing position,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang.

China’s accusation

China has also accused India of illegally sending its troops through that region, breaching historical convention and violating the UN Charter and the basic principles of international law.

According to Happymon Jacob, Associate Professor of Disarmament Studies, Centre for International Politics, Organisation and Disarmament School of International Studies, JNU, China has been testing the Indian side for several years now and, given the state of the bilateral relationship between Beijing and New Delhi, more such standoffs are expected in the coming days.

“While enhancing our military strength in the region is certainly an option, a purely military option may be inadequate. India, and China, should end the war of words and engage in high level political conversations,” added Jacob.

Published on July 04, 2017

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