Doklam stand-off: Ahead of Doval’s visit, China talks tough, hardens stand

In Better Times: India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval (left) and China’s State Councillor Yang Jiechi during their first meeting in Beijing in September 2014.

Ahead of National Security Adviser Ajit Doval’s visit to Beijing for a BRICS meeting, China has signalled a hardening of its posture on the continuing standoff along the Sikkim border by reiterating that the only way to resolve the impasse is for India to unconditionally withdraw troops as a precursor to any talks.

Alluding to remarks of China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, the spokesperson of China’s Foreign Office, Lu Kang, pinned the blame on India for trespassing into China’s territory and asked for an unconditional pull-out by India. “I have stressed many times that the crux of this incident is that the Indian border troops illegally trespassed into China’s territory and the solution as Wang put it is for Indian border troops to pull-out unconditionally. This is a precondition basis for any meaningful talks between the two countries,” said the spokesperson in Beijing on July 26.

china-sikkim-doklamThe Chinese spokesperson’s clarification and reiteration of its stated position came a day before the meeting of the national security advisers of BRICS countries at which Mr Doval will represent India. India has made it clear to China that India’s decision to send its troops to the disputed Doklam plateau, which is contested by both China and Bhutan, was based on a careful assessment that China’s building of a road through the strategic plateau amounted to an attempt to change the status quo at the strategically located India-Bhutan-China tri-junction and represented a threat to the country’s security.

In a pointed speech in parliament on July 20, India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said that “both sides must pull back troops and work things out with talks” and stressed that India’s action (in sending its troops to the Doklam plateau last month) was motivated by its need to protect its security near where the boundaries of China, India and Bhutan meet. “If China, unilaterally changes the status quo of the tri-junction point, it is a straight challenge to our security,” said Ms Swaraj.

Will Doval meet Yang?

With both India and China refusing to budge from their positions, and Beijing repeatedly asking India for unilateral withdrawal of troops, there is hardly any room for compromise and little hope of any breakthrough in the continuing stalemate. However, all eyes will be on a likely bilateral meeting between Mr Doval and his Chinese counterpart, the influential State Councillor Yang Jiechi, on the sidelines of the BRICS meeting. Both Doval and Yang are also Special Representatives for the India-China boundary negotiations, and enjoy confidence of their leaders. Hence, the Doval-Yang meeting, if it takes place, could prepare the stage for some give-and-take to resolve the Doklam standoff, which has plunged relations between the two Asian giants to a new low.

Setback for India-China ties

ranade“The Doklam standoff has already damaged the relationship,” said Jayadeva Ranade, a well-known China expert.

“There are threatening statements coming from China, including from the state-controlled media, which are not conducive to a constructive relationship,” Ranade told India Writes Network.

Mr Ranade defended India’s position, saying that India is looking to deescalate tensions and settle the issue peacefully, but China is persisting with its tough talk. The focus should be on bringing the temperature down and de-escalating tensions, said Mr Ranade.