Facts fa­vor China in stand­off

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

Since the stand­off be­gan be­tween China and In­dia on a re­mote Hi­malayan plateau in mid-June, For­eign Min­istry spokesper­sons have is­sued one strong state­ment af­ter an­other, ask­ing In­dia to with­draw its troops from Donglang, and warn­ing it against mis­cal­cu­la­tions and nur­tur­ing il­lu­sions. And De­fense Min­istry spokesper­sons have stressed the res­o­lu­tion of the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army to de­fend China’s ter­ri­tory and called on In­dia not to un­der­es­ti­mate the coun­try’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to safe­guard its sovereignty.

In the past, In­dia and China have been able to man­age their dif­fer­ences over their dis­puted bor­ders that have arisen from time to time.

But the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment’s strong re­sponse sug­gests some­thing is dif­fer­ent this time.

First, the sim­ple fact is that China and In­dia have no bor­der dis­pute in the Donglang area, be­cause the boundary there has been de­lim­ited un­der the 1890 Con­ven­tion Be­tween Great Bri­tain and China Re­lat­ing to Sikkim and Ti­bet.

True, China and In­dia share a long bor­der across thou­sands of kilo­me­ters and most of it has not been of­fi­cially de­mar­cated. But the 220 km bor­der be­tween China and In­dia in the Sikkim sec­tor was set­tled way back in 1890, and suc­ces­sive Chi­nese and In­dian gov­ern­ments have abided by it since then. But on June 18, the In­dian troops crossed the es­tab­lished bor­der and force­fully stopped their Chi­nese coun­ter­parts from build­ing in­fra­struc­ture on the Chi­nese side, which led to the cur­rent stand­off.

In­dia claims the stand­off is at the “tri-junc­tion” (meet­ing point of the bor­ders of China, In­dia and Bhutan), but the truth is that the site is at least 2 kilo- meters away from the tri-junc­tion. China can only per­ceive the In­dian in­tru­sion as an at­tempt to ex­pand the dis­putes into un­con­tested ar­eas, which will make the bor­der is­sue more dif­fi­cult to re­solve.

Sec­ond, In­dia’s claim of be­ing un­der obli­ga­tion to help Bhutan de­fend its ter­ri­tory has no le­gal ba­sis, as Bhutan is not In­dia’s “treaty ally”. Bhutan signed a Friend­ship Treaty with In­dia in 1949, in which “Bhutan agrees to be guided by the ad­vice of the Gov­ern­ment of In­dia in re­gard to its ex­ter­nal re­la­tions”. The treaty was re­vised in 2007, and now it states the two gov­ern­ments “shall co­op­er­ate closely with each other on is­sues re­lat­ing to their na­tional in­ter­ests”, and nei­ther “shall al­low the use of its ter­ri­tory for ac­tiv­i­ties harm­ful to the na­tional secu- rity and in­ter­est of the other”.

Even though Bhutan has agreed to “co­op­er­ate”, noth­ing in the treaty jus­ti­fies In­dia tres­pass­ing into Chi­nese ter­ri­tory.

Bhutan is a sov­er­eign state, a friendly neigh­bor to both China and In­dia. Of China’s 14 land neigh­bors, Bhutan is the only one that has no diplo­matic ties with China, and one of the two that have not set­tled their land bor­ders with China (the other be­ing In­dia). Ac­tu­ally, Bhutan has made ter­ri­to­rial claims that con­flict with those of China. Both sides have held 24 rounds of talks since the 1980s and reached a com­mon un­der­stand­ing on the ba­sics of their bor­ders.

But with­out In­dia’s en­dorse­ment, Bhutan can­not sign a bor­der agree­ment with China. And with­out an In­dia-en­dorsed bor­der agree­ment, Bhutan can­not con­clude ne­go­ti­a­tions to es­tab­lish diplo­matic re­la­tions with China.

As one of the found­ing mem­bers of the Non-Aligned Move­ment whose core prin­ci­ples in­clude na­tional in­de­pen­dence, state sovereignty, and op­po­si­tion to bloc pol­i­tics, In­dia knows full well that in­ter­ven­tion in the name of a third party does not con­form to its own for­eign pol­icy. In­dia ac­tu­ally is harm­ing Bhutan’s na­tional in­ter­ests, and its “co­op­er­a­tion” with Bhutan is only for its na­tional in­ter­ests.

Third, Donglang has been un­der China’s con­trol and ad­min­is­tra­tion. PLA units con­duct reg­u­lar pa­trols in the area, and the lo­cal gov­ern­ment has built roads and fa­cil­i­ties to fa­cil­i­tate eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties there to help im­prove the liveli­hoods of lo­cal res­i­dents.

Chi­nese herds­men use the grass­lands in Donglang to graze their cat­tle in the sum­mer, as do Bhutanese herds­men — but only with the en­dorse­ment of the Chi­nese lo­cal gov­ern­ment and af­ter pay­ing the “grass tax”. So China has ev­ery right to build roads, houses and other fa­cil­i­ties in the area, be­cause it is part of its ter­ri­tory.

The fact is that China and In­dia have no dis­putes in the Sikkim sec­tion of their bor­der, and hence In­dia can­not jus­tify its bor­der trans­gres­sion — ei­ther to de­fend its own ter­ri­to­rial rights or to sup­port a third party’s ter­ri­to­rial claim against China.

Con­trary to what In­dian Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Sushma Swaraj said in her speech in the In­dian par­lia­ment on July 20 — that China was “uni­lat­er­ally” chang­ing the sta­tus quo in Donglang — it is In­dia that is try­ing to change the sta­tus quo, by cre­at­ing a dis­pute where there is none, dis­re­gard­ing China’s con­trol over the area, try­ing to im­pede China-Bhutan bor­der ne­go­ti­a­tions, and com­pli­cat­ing the bor­der is­sue with mil­i­tary buildup. It is the il­le­gal in­tru­sion of In­dian troops into Chi­nese ter­ri­tory that is the most dis­rup­tive fac­tor to the sta­tus quo.

The Donglang stand­off is un­prece­dented. That is why the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has adopted a very strong stance and is seek­ing an un­con­di­tional with­drawal of In­dian troops. There can be no room for ne­go­ti­a­tions be­fore this wrong is righted. New Delhi should un­der­stand the sever­ity of the sit­u­a­tion and han­dle the sen­si­tive is­sue more care­fully and pru­dently.

In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi once said that for four decades, not a sin­gle bul­let has been fired across the In­dia-China bor­der. We all have to work harder to en­sure the state­ment stands the test of time.

In the past, In­dia and China have been able to man­age their dif­fer­ences over their dis­puted bor­ders that have arisen from time to time. But the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment’s strong re­sponse sug­gests some­thing is dif­fer­ent this time.

The au­thor is a re­tired ma­jor gen­eral of the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army. Cour­tesy: chin­aus­fo­cus.com

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