Army chief Rawat visits Sikkim amid Chinese incursion

29 June 2017

Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat arrived in the Sikkim capital of Gangtok today as a standoff continues between Indian and Chinese troops in a sensitive sector along the Sino-Indian border.

Gen Rawat will take stock of operations and interact with top commanders in the formation headquarters of the force in the border state. Official sources, however, described General Rawat's visit as routine.

The latest face-off is linked to Donglang, a narrow but strategically important tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan. Tension has been mounting between the Indian and Chinese armies after a scuffle between Indian troops and personnel of China's People's Liberation Army in the remote border area. (See: China accuses India of adverse actions on Sikkim border)

China on Wednesday warned India that future visits of its pilgrims to Kailash Mansarovar through the Nathu La pass will depend on whether it "corrects its errors".

Beijing also termed the construction of a road in the Sikkim sector of the Sino-India border as "legitimate", asserting that it was being built on Chinese territory that neither belongs to India nor Bhutan and no other country had the right to interfere.

"Donglang is part of China's territory. This is indisputable. The Donglang area belonged to China since ancient times and it doesn't belong to Bhutan," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told the media in Beijing.

"India wants to raise an issue with this part. I should say it doesn't belong to Bhutan, nor it belongs to India. So we have complete legal basis for this. Chinese construction of the road project is legitimate and normal action on its territory. No other country has the right to interfere," he said while replying to a question.

Lu defended China's decision to shut the Nathu La pass in Sikkim for Indian pilgrims, saying that China had agreed to open the route as the boundary there has been delineated with the consent of both the countries.

"For a long time in the interest of India-China relations, China provided great conveniences to the Indian pilgrims. Based on the consensus between the two countries' leaders, and on the fact that the Sikkim sector boundary is delineated and recognised by two countries, the Chinese side in 2015 opened the Nathu La pass for Indian pilgrims," he said.

For two years it worked well and in fact this year also the Chinese authorities had prepared for the reception of Indian pilgrims and informed the Indian side about it, Lu said.

"Now the suspension of the same is an emergency response to the situation there. I want to stress that the resumption of pilgrims pass requires necessary atmosphere and conditions. So the liability of the same totally lies with the Indian side and when it will be reopened depends on when or whether the Indian side will correct its errors," he said.

China also hinted that India was objecting to its efforts to build the road in Donglang area of the Sikkim sector on behalf of Bhutan which does not have any diplomatic ties with Beijing.

Taking a dig at India, Lu said Bhutan is a universally recognised sovereign country. "Hope countries can respect the sovereignty of the country. The China-Bhutan boundary is not delineated, no third party should interfere in this matter and make irresponsible remarks or actions," he said.

"If any third party, out of hidden agenda, interferes it is disrespect of the sovereignty of Bhutan. We don't want to see this as Bhutan is a country entitled to sovereignty by the international community," Lu said.

Donglang is located in a tri-junction close to the strategic area called Chicken's Neck. China says that the Sikkim part of the India-China boundary is settled and therefore India has no right to object over the road construction.

Asked about whether there was any progress in the talks between India and Chinese officials over the border standoff, Lu said, "The Indian troops crossed the boundary at the Sikkim side to the Chinese territory.

"This is different to what was before in India-China boundary. China has made solemn representations against the same. India should respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China."

During his two-day visit, General Rawat will travel to a number of formation headquarters in the northeast and review various operational matters in the region - a strategically key region having most of the 3,488-km-long- border with China. Of the India-China border from Jammu and Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh, a 220-km section falls in Sikkim.

China also said that it has lodged diplomatic protests with India, both in New Delhi and Beijing, alleging that the Indian troops trespassed into Chinese territory in the Sikkim sector.

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