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China, India struggle to put a lid on their border row involving Bhutan

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The continuing standoff between India and China along their shared border has cast a dark shadow on their bilateral relationship. It has also stoked nationalism on both sides, making it tough to resolve the issue.

For the past several weeks, Chinese and Indian troops have faced off each other close to a valley controlled by China that separates India from Bhutan – a close Indian ally – and gives China access to the so-called Chicken’s Neck, a thin strip of land that connects India to its remote northeastern regions.

Beijing alleges Indian forces crossed into a region known in China as Donglang, called Doklam in India, early in June and obstructed work on a road on the Himalayan plateau.

Chinese officials say the Indian side’s actions infringe upon an 1890 border agreement between China and Britain, India’s colonial ruler until 1947.

India, meanwhile, claims Chinese troops entered and tried to construct a road in Bhutanese territory. Landlocked Bhutan, a small Himalayan nation tucked between the two Asian giants, is hugely dependent on New Delhi and does not have diplomatic relations with Beijing. Bhutan has said the construction of the road on its territory is “a direct violation” of agreements with China.

Although China and Bhutan have been negotiating the precise border for decades without serious incident, Bhutan this time sought help from India, which considers the particular patch of mountain to be a strategically vital territory and sent troops to the plateau to stop the Chinese workers. Both sides have failed to fix the issue since then.

The blame game

On Wednesday, August 2, China released a statement blaming India for the problem and accused New Delhi of “concocting” excuses for sending its troops to the region.

“What India has done not only severely violates China’s territorial sovereignty but also poses a grave challenge to regional peace and stability and the international order, which will not be tolerated by any sovereign state,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang was quoted by the Xinhua news agency as saying.

Beijing also rejected any role for India in the boundary issue between China and Bhutan. “As a third party, India has no right to interfere in or impede the boundary talks between China and Bhutan, still less the right to make territorial claims on Bhutan’s behalf,” the foreign ministry said. “China will take all necessary measures to safeguard its legitimate and lawful rights and interests,” it added.

India later responded to the Chinese statement by reiterating that Chinese road construction work in the disputed area “would represent a significant change of status quo” and urging “utmost restraint” by all sides.

“India considers that peace and tranquility in the India-China border areas is an important pre-requisite for smooth development of our bilateral relations with China,” India’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday evening.

While China has repeatedly called on India to withdraw its forces, reports suggest that there hasn’t been any change in the ground situation and the two sides are continuing their standoff.(Agencies)

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