India should respect border agreement, withdraw troops
More than two weeks after India sent troops across the Sikkim border into China to obstruct construction of a road by the People’s Liberation Army in the Donglong region, the situation there remains worryingly tense, with a standoff between soldiers of the two countries still ongoing.
That the situation has not flared out of control is thanks to the great restraint exercised by the Chinese troops. But the tensions resulting from the intrusion will surely grow if there is not a total withdrawal of the Indian troops.
Unlike previous incidents that have occurred along other parts of the 3,500-kilometer border between China and India, the latest incident happened at a section that has long been demarcated by an 1890 historical convention and reaffirmed in documents exchanged between successive Chinese and Indian governments since then.
The transgression by Indian troops therefore violates that convention and the basic norms that guide international relations. China has made it explicitly clear that it is “unwavering” in its resolve to uphold its territorial integrity and will take whatever measures it deems necessary to do so.
India may be trying to make a point. It is reportedly worried that the Chinese road construction may represent a significant change in the status quo with serious security implications for India, according to its foreign ministry.
But such worries could have been allayed through dialogue and consultation using the mechanisms that are already in place and which have long helped the two sides maintain peace and tranquility in the region since their short border war in 1962.
Yet instead of calls for talks, what we hear is clamor for war by the Indian military, with its Army Chief General Bipin Rawat declaring recently that India “was ready for a two-and-a-half front war (China, Pakistan and internal security)”, and its Defense Minister Arun Jaitley saying that the India of 2017 was not the India of 1962.
Perhaps its defeat in that war was too humiliating for some in the Indian military and that is why they are talking belligerently this time.
And doubtlessly such irresponsible acts and rhetoric reflect the “strategic anxiety” over China’s rise harbored by some Indian politicians and their apprehensions about the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative.
Yet as Chinese officials have emphasized on many occasions, the initiative aims to promote economic cooperation and connectivity and has no bearing on sovereignty issues. There is no need for India to be sensitive about the initiative.
The trespassing by the Indian troops runs counter to the Indian government’s longstanding and rightful position. It should respect China’s territorial integrity and withdraw its troops back across the border.