Many believe the on-going border standoff at Sikkim could be resolved if Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to have a one-on-one meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany.
However, China has put such hopes to rest by saying the atmosphere is not conducive for such a meeting. India confirmed it has not sought a bilateral meeting.
The countries’ terse approach reflects the current mood in Beijing and New Delhi.
Border standoffs between India and China have been amicably resolved in the past through diplomacy. Perhaps that is why India has remained largely silent this time in the face of a barrage of accusations from China and its media.
China has cause to dispute India’s view of the exact location of the India-China-Bhutan “tri-junction.” India says the tri-junction is near Batang La, but the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1890, which determines Sikkim’s border with Tibet, shows Mount Gipmochi as the tri-junction.
As described in the treaty, the border runs from Gipmochi to Gyemochen and further north to Batang La. Doka La (Donglang in Chinese) lies between Batang La and Gyemochen. Therefore, China has the right to say Indian troops had crossed the border when they interfered with Chinese attempts to extend a border road in Doko La early June.
Bhutan, however, is not bound by the 1890 treaty. Despite several rounds of talks, disputes over stretches of western Bhutan, including the area subject to current the India-China standoff remain unresolved.
According to Indian media reports, Royal Bhutan Army personnel confronted Chinese troops at Doko La as the Chinese road construction made its way towards their camp. By the time Indian soldiers arrived, Chinese troops had already pushed back Bhutanese soldiers.
India, which has special ties with Bhutan, trains the Bhutanese army and conducts joint patrols with them.
Beijing may be driving a wedge between India and Bhutan by giving Thimpu a message that so long as it does not have diplomatic ties with China and remains a friend of India, road construction and other activities will continue.
China wants India to withdraw its forces immediately before any meaningful talks. But India is unlikely to comply.
India has security concerns over a Chinese road heading toward its Siliguri Corridor (see map). Besides, it will not allow a small neighbor like Bhutan to be “bullied” by China.
“With certain conditions, Bhutan and Sikkim will see strong anti-India movements, which will negatively affect India’s already turbulent northeast area and rewrite southern Himalayan geopolitics”
Meanhile, Chinese media have been stirring up anti-Indian sentiment. On Wednesday, Chinese official media called for Sikkim’s “independence” and separation from India.
The Global Times called on Chinese citizens to “fuel” a pro-independence movement in Sikkim and overturn India’s “brutal” annexation of the state. It said Beijing should rally the world against New Delhi, which has allegedly forced Bhutan to sign unfair treaties on sovereignty and defense.
“With certain conditions, Bhutan and Sikkim will see strong anti-India movements, which will negatively affect India’s already turbulent northeast area and rewrite southern Himalayan geopolitics,” the newspaper said.
It is as yet unclear whether China is merely indulging in military posturing or if it means business. For now Beijing does not look to be in any rush to resolve the standoff.