Monday, 30th October 2017

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China reaffirms Doklam grudge

India appears keen to move beyond Doklam but the Chinese seem unwilling to let New Delhi forget that Beijing views what happened in the tri-junction with Bhutan this summer as a transgression.

By Anita Joshua
  • Published 16.12.17
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New Delhi: India appears keen to move beyond Doklam but the Chinese seem unwilling to let New Delhi forget that Beijing views what happened in the tri-junction with Bhutan this summer as a transgression.

This becomes clear from China's official version of what transpired between foreign ministers Wang Yi and Sushma Swaraj on Monday at their first bilateral meeting since the Doklam troop standoff.

In a Chinese foreign office statement on Thursday, Wang said that bilateral relations had maintained an overall development momentum but the "results were unsatisfactory" despite efforts by both sides.

"The Dong Lang incident caused by the Indian border troops' illegal crossing of the China-Indian boundary into the Chinese territory was a severe test for bilateral relations," he says.

Swaraj's two-line statement on the meeting had made no mention of Doklam although officials acknowledged that the subject had come up, with the two sides agreeing that the relationship should not be hostage to any single issue.

Before Thursday's statement, issued in English, China had put out a statement in Mandarin on Monday. Based on this, the Chinese media had reported that the talks were heated and quoted Wang as saying:

"The viciousness caused by the cross-border infiltration of the Indian border guards put bilateral relations under severe pressure."

Following these reports, the Indian foreign ministry issued a statement on Wednesday saying the two ministers had noted the challenge the standoff posed to the relationship and both were satisfied that it had been resolved through diplomacy.

During Thursday's regular weekly briefing, ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar reiterated that the way the meeting had been reported in parts of the media was "completely incorrect".

However, although the English version of the Chinese statement eschews the word "viciousness", it does convey Beijing's strong views about the standoff.

Kumar had quoted Wang as saying that the peaceful resolution of the standoff reflected the political maturity on both sides. While agreeing with this, Sushma has stressed that peace at the borders is a prerequisite for smooth bilateral relations.

China does not dispute that both sides showed maturity but underlines the need to learn the lessons of the face-off to "prevent similar incidents from happening again" --- a stand that assumes significance in the light of fresh reports about a Chinese troop build-up in the area.

From the Chinese account, it seems that at the meeting, Wang had dwelt at length on the need for each country to see the other as an "opportunity and not a challenge, and a partner rather than an opponent".

The statement quotes him: "If China and India speak in one voice, the world will listen."

This statement, together with a remark by Wang against forming cliques, seems like China telling India that it disapproves of New Delhi joining exploratory talks to resurrect the quadrilateral with the US, Japan and Australia to checkmate Beijing in the Indo-Pacific region.