China-India relations

China ramps up rhetoric in border row with India ahead of key meetings

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 August, 2017, 5:18pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 August, 2017, 11:21pm

Beijing has doubled down on its tough rhetoric in its Himalayan border row, with official and military mouthpieces insisting China will not back down on territorial sovereignty.

The warnings to New Delhi on Thursday came a day after the foreign ministry took the rare step of releasing a detailed position paper on the protracted dispute on the remote Doklam Plateau where China, India and Bhutan meet.

It also came just days ahead of a possible meeting between Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Indian counterpart on the sidelines of Asean meetings in Manila, the Philippines, later this week.

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Xinhua launched the latest salvo with a commentary on Thursday night warning that India should not “misinterpret China’s restraint”.

“China has always prioritised diplomacy before resorting to military moves,” the commentary said, but the ball was in India’s court.

Earlier in the day, a commentary in the PLA Daily, the mouthpiece of the military, accused India of “concocting all sorts of excuses” over what it called illegal entry by Indian personnel into Chinese territory.

“China will not compromise on matters concerning its territorial sovereignty. No country should underestimate our resolve in safeguarding our territorial sovereignty,” it said.

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The commentary said China had showed a “maximum level of goodwill” to India since June when the conflict broke out, and had communicated with India through diplomatic channels.

“We know that as we are on the historic mission towards the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, encountering nuisances is inevitable, and we will continue to be focused and do our own thing,” it said, adding that China has the confidence to prevail over all forms of aggression.

In its 15-page position paper on Wednesday, the foreign ministry said Indian troop numbers in the disputed Doklam region had fallen from a peak of more than 400 to about 40 at the end of July.

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Observers said conditions on the ground were improving and China’s posturing was mainly to send a message home.

Pang Zhongying, from the Ocean University of China in Qingdao, said the position paper was clearly for domestic consumption.

“[The position paper] is not for an international audience because the foreign ministry did not release an English version,” Pang said. “We can also tell from the tone of the document that it was addressing domestic pressure.”

Rajeev Ranjan Chaturvedy, a specialist in South Asian studies with the National University of Singapore, said tensions over the stand-off appeared to be easing.

“My understanding is that diplomats of both countries are working very hard for a peaceful settlement of the dispute,” he said.

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In addition to the rhetoric, the position paper also for the first time floated the idea of New Delhi and Beijing signing a new boundary convention to replace the 1890 Convention between Great Britain and China.

Pang said the suggestion could be a graceful way for Beijing to get out of the quagmire.

“This is in fact a softening of China’s position – it is acquiescing to India’s ... argument [that Doklam is a disputed area],” he said.

Meanwhile, India’s official position remained restrained.

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“India’s position on this issue and related facts have been articulated in our press statement of June 30, 2017,” the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said.

But soon after the position paper was issued, Indian government sources were quoted by the Hindustan Times as saying that there had been no withdrawal of troops by India and the situation on the ground was unchanged.

Wang’s scheduled meeting with Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj in Manila will be the second substantial talks between the two countries after Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval’s visit to Beijing last week, where he met State Councillor Yang Jiechi.

The border stand-off has already strained ties between the nuclear-armed Asian neighbours and might cast a shadow over Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s planned trip to China for the BRICS meeting in Xiamen next month, when he is expected to meet President Xi Jinping.