China, India locked in high-stakes border row – Modi boosts power grip

BEIJING, July 27, (AFP): A border stand-off between Chinese and Indian troops on a remote Himalayan plateau has heightened long-standing tensions while ensnaring a tiny kingdom, Bhutan, between the two nuclear-armed powers.

The row has festered for more than a month as India and China refuse to back down in the distant but strategically key territory, reflecting the historic mistrust between the Asian giants.

The area is disputed between China and Bhutan but India’s decision to jump into the fray reflects its concerns about Beijing’s growing military might and ambitions in the region, analysts say.

The border trouble began in mid-June when Chinese soldiers started to extend a road through the Doklam territory — known as “Donglang” in Chinese.

India, a close ally of Bhutan, then deployed troops to stop the construction project, prompting Beijing to accuse India of trespassing on Chinese soil.

China, which warned this week that it would step up its deployment, insists that India must withdraw its troops before any proper negotiation takes place. India says said both sides should withdraw their forces.

“The solution to this issue is simple, which is that the Indian troops back out honestly,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said this week.

While the deadlock may be broached during Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval’s visit to Beijing on Thursday, there are no signs that either side is ready to back down.

“It’s easier to shake a mountain than to shake the People’s Liberation Army (PLA),” Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Wu Qian boasted at a press conference Monday.

Sarath Chand, India’s vice army chief, said on Tuesday: “China is expanding its influence across the Himalayas into our neighbourhood despite being an economy five times the size (of India), with such a large standing army … it is bound to be a threat for us in the years ahead.”

Mistrust

Mistrust is hundreds of years old and the pair fought a brief war in 1962 in India’s border state of Arunachal Pradesh.

“India views China’s road-building as a threat because (the Chinese) have gone against the status quo of behaviour in a disputed territory,” Shen Dingli, vice dean of Fudan University’s Institute of International Studies, told AFP.

The road was being built close to the “Chicken’s Neck,” a narrow, essential strip of land connecting India’s northeastern provinces with the rest of the country.

But Beijing maintains that “Doklam has been part of China since ancient times,” countering that Indian troops triggered the standoff by crossing a boundary established in an 1890 agreement with Britain.

Zhao Xiaozhuo, a senior Chinese colonel and an analyst at a PLA think tank, said it was “ridiculous” for India to view the road construction as a threat.

“India views infrastructure in the border areas as only for military use with little consideration for their valuable role in economic development,” Zhao wrote in the state-run China Daily.

Bhutan has taken a backseat as India and China scuffle.

Jayadeva Ranade, head of the Delhi-based Centre for China Analysis and Strategy, said China is trying to establish a “pro-Beijing lobby” inside Bhutan.

“But Bhutan has limitations on what it can do directly. It has protested to China, issued notes, but more than that, what can they really do but sit and watch?”

Neither Chinese President Xi Jinping nor Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi can back down without facing a “nationalist backlash” back home, said Huang Jing, a Sino-Indian relations expert at the National University of Singapore.

Xi in particular must exude strength as he consolidates power before a crucial Communist Party congress later this year.

Modi, Kumar allies; form govt in Bihar: A former arch-rival of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi aligned with the Hindu nationalist leader on Thursday to form a new government in Bihar, one of the country’s most populous states.

The outspoken Nitish Kumar took the oath as Bihar’s chief minister just hours after standing down in protest at corruption allegations against his last coalition partner. The link up between Kumar’s Janata Dal United party and the prime minister’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) further tightens Modi’s grip on power ahead of national elections in 2019.

Kumar had been considered a potential challenger to Modi for India’s top job.

The BJP, which this month easily won the presidential election for the first time, now rules 17 of India’s 29 states either directly or in alliance with regional parties.

Bihar, with a population of 100 million people but impoverished and frequently scandal-tainted, has seen a titanic power struggle in recent years.

In 2013 then-chief minister Kumar pulled his party out of a 17-year-old alliance with the BJP over Modi’s appointment as party leader.

He had called Modi a “fascist” and “Hitler” over his alleged anti-Muslim and hardline Hindu politics.

After stepping down in 2014 as chief minister after a poor showing in elections, Kumar forged a “grand alliance” with another ex-rival and former chief minister, Lalu Prasad Yadav, to thwart Modi’s right-wing Hindu party in the following year’s state polls.

The alliance, which also involved the main opposition Congress party, was seen as a possible prototype for a national bid to stop Modi’s getting reelection.

Yadav’s son Tejashwi Yadav became a deputy chief minister under the deal, but is now under investigation by federal investigators over an illegal land deal. He has denied the charges.

His father was jailed and has been banned from elected office since 2013 over a separate million dollar fodder scam.

After several calls for Tejashwi Yadav to stand down, Kumar resigned late Wednesday saying it was “impossible” to carry on.

Kumar will face a floor test on Friday to prove his new majority.

“I promise that I will stay committed to the people of Bihar,” Kumar told reporters after taking oath in state capital Patna.

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