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BEIJING, Aug 5, (Agencies): Beijing is intensifying its warnings to Indian troops to get out of a contested region high in the Himalayas where China, India and Bhutan meet, saying China’s “restraint has its limits” and publicizing livefire drills in Tibet.
Indian troops entered the area in the Doklam Plateau in June after New Delhi’s ally, Bhutan, complained a Chinese military construction party was building a road inside Bhutan’s territory. Beijing says Doklam is located in Tibet and that the border dispute between China and Bhutan has nothing to do with India. It has demanded that Indian troops withdraw before any talks. On Friday, China Central Television broadcast video it said showed an army unit in an unidentified part of Tibet carrying out live-fire firing exercises in the past few days. A commander sitting in a vehicle shouted “3, 2, 1, fire!” into two telephones and a missile was launched into the sky. Troops were shown loading and firing other missiles, some of which landed in fiery explosions.
The report, which was also carried in other state media, didn’t mention the dispute with India, and said the unit has been training for three months. It appeared to be an attempt to increase pressure on India, however, along with strongly worded statements this week from China’s foreign and defense ministries, as well as in state media. “China has made it clear that there is no room for negotiation and the only solution is the unconditional and immediate withdrawal of Indian troops from the region,” said a commentary Friday by the official Xinhua News Agency. “If China backs down now, India may be emboldened to make more trouble in the future,” it added.
Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said Thursday that while Chinese armed forces had shown “utmost goodwill” and a “high level of restraint” in the face of the Indian troops, “restraint has its limits.” “No country should underestimate the Chinese forces’ confidence and capability to safeguard peace and their resolve and willpower to defend national sovereignty, security and development interests,” Ren said in a statement. China and Bhutan have been holding talks over their border dispute since the 1980s and Bhutan feared the road construction would affect the process of drawing their boundary. India said its troops were attempting to urge the Chinese forces not to change the status quo and that any construction would have “serious security implications for India.” In New Delhi, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told Parliament on Thursday that India was concerned about China’s actions affecting the tri-junction boundary point between Bhutan, China and India as well as the India-China border.
She said India would “keep engaging with China to resolve the dispute.” “War is not a solution to anything,” Swaraj said. “Patience, control on comments and diplomacy can resolve problems.” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Thursday that India was building roads, hoarding supplies and deploying a large number of troops in the area. “This is by no means for peace,” Geng said. Mistrust between the giant neighbours goes back centuries and the pair fought a brief war in 1962 in India’s border state of Arunachal Pradesh. The recent escalation of China’s rhetoric was “genuinely troubling,” Rory Medcalf, head of Australian National University’s National Security College, told AFP.
“It suggests that diplomatic conversations, including among high-level national security advisers, are failing to find a face-saving way for the two powers to withdraw their forces,” he said. The plateau is strategically significant as it gives China access to the so-called “chicken neck” — a thin strip of land connecting India’s northeastern states with the rest of the country. Despite the heated war of words, other analysts played down the possibility of an armed clash.
“The point of these statements isn’t that war is imminent; rather, they’re an attempt to figure out how to not go to war without losing face,” Shen Dingli, vice dean of Fudan University’s Institute of International Studies, told AFP. “Neither side wants to go to war, but China and India are acting like two unhappy little children.” China has rolled out a massive new global infrastructure programme known as the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, which it presents as a peaceful development policy to connect Chinese companies to new markets around the world. Critics see it as a geopolitical powerplay.