The Telegraph
Monday , July 17 , 2017

Sangh loose talk on China worries govt

New Delhi, July 16: Sections of India's strategic establishment are worried that provocative comments like RSS leader Indresh Kumar's exhortation yesterday for an Indian takeover of parts of Tibet are undercutting the foreign office's emphasis on diplomacy to resolve the current border spat with China.

Kumar was today reported as telling a public meeting in Ahmedabad on Saturday that "to snatch Kailash Mansarovar from the clutches of China and make India powerful, people of all faiths should pray five times a day".

Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar - both pilgrim spots - are located in Tibet, and Kumar's comment amounts to a suggestion that India review its acceptance of Tibet as an integral part of China.

But the comment could hurt attempts by the Narendra Modi government to project India's approach to the border standoff with China as unanimous, measured and reliant on diplomacy rather than threatening rhetoric, three senior officials told The Telegraph.

The Indian foreign office's careful projection of India's attitude to the spat is aimed at combating China's attempts at portraying India as the provocateur, for an international community whose tacit support New Delhi counts as critical for a favourable resolution.

To ensure that the approach appears unanimous, and to avoid stray provocations like Kumar's comment, the government this week convened meetings with Opposition leaders to build consensus on the diplomacy-led strategy, the officials said.

India also wants to contrast its approach to that of China, where the foreign office has repeatedly issued thinly veiled threats and laid down conditions for a resolution of the crisis. Sections of the country's state-run media have also pulled out images and editorials from 1962, when China had humiliated India's army in their only war.

"We have accumulated a lot of experience - both sides - over the years in addressing a number of matters," Indian foreign ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay said this week in response to a question from this paper. "I would not like to comment on what others say in this regard. But I can certainly say that the approach that we had underlined and put out at the end of last month - that continues."

The current border face-off between Indian and Chinese troops is situated near their tri-junction with Bhutan, on a plateau India calls Doko La, China identifies as Donglang, and Bhutan calls Doklam. China insists the plateau falls in its territory, Bhutan argues it is disputed between them, and India has said it sent its troops there on Bhutan's request. India and Bhutan share a 2007 treaty under which they are each committed to ensuring their territory isn't used against the other.

The tension is the latest in a series of tiffs that have jeopardised the decades of success India and China have enjoyed in managing their disputed border, with each focusing on domestic economic growth.

China has tried to delay India's membership of the Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG), has blocked New Delhi's efforts to get the UN to proscribe major Pakistan-based terrorists, and is building an economic corridor through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

India sent a central minister with the Dalai Lama to disputed parts of Arunachal Pradesh, has tightened military ties with the US and Japan and has boycotted Chinese President Xi Jinping's grand connectivity project, the Belt and Road Initiative.#. But the border standoff is the longest between Indian and Chinese troops in three decades, and has sparked contrasting official responses from the two countries - a contrast the foreign office here wants to maintain.

China's foreign ministry spokespersons have repeatedly laid down a condition - that India withdraw its troops - for any talks, and have cautioned India to do so soon. India's foreign office has been firm in articulating its position - but has carefully avoided responding to Chinese rhetoric.

In an address in Singapore last week, foreign secretary S. Jaishankar had called the spat a "test of our maturity" and said: "I see no reason having handled so many situations in the past that we will not handle this."

Although the Chinese foreign ministry rebuffed Jaishankar's efforts to put a lid on the public rhetoric by calling the current spat "fundamentally different" from those in the past, the Indian foreign office retained its insistence on a diplomatic solution alone.

"Importance of India and China to remain engaged through diplomacy was underlined," Baglay said after a meeting foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and home minister Rajnath Singh held with Opposition leaders on Friday.

Kumar's comment sparked concerns, officials said, because China has already indicated it is keen to play victim.

Days after the standoff began, previously ignored comments by army chief Bipin Rawat - suggesting India is "ready for a two-and-a-half-front war" - had triggered outrage from China's foreign ministry, which asked him to revise his history from 1962.

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