China steps up activity along Himachal as Doklam stand-off continues

03 August 2017

China is reported to have stepped up construction activity all along the international border even as India on Wednesday called for a status quo on the disputed border.

After intruding into Uttarakhand a few days ago, China has now stepped up road-building and construction activities across the Himachal border where residents of villages in the remote districts of Kinnaur and Lahaul and Spiti have reported spotting Chinese helicopters and increased activity.

India on Wednesday reiterated that peace and tranquility in the border areas is an important prerequisite for smooth development of bilateral relations with China.

In an official response to a Chinese government document addressing the impasse at Doklam, India said its position on the issue had already been articulated in a press statement released on 30 June.

"India is deeply concerned at the recent Chinese actions and has conveyed to the Chinese government that such construction would represent a significant change of status quo with serious security implications for India... It is essential that all parties concerned display utmost restraint and abide by their respective bilateral understandings not to change the status quo unilaterally," the press release had stated.

Himachal shares a 260 km porous border on its northeastern side with China and three battalions of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) are maintaining constant vigil since the Doklam faceoff in mid-June.

Heightened Chinese activities on building roads and infrastructure were reported in the mountainous and arid Tibetan region after the India-China standoff over Doklam across the Sikkim border in the eastern sector.

Residents of villages in the remote districts of Kinnaur and Lahaul and Spiti have reported spotting Chinese helicopters and increased road-building and construction activities across the border.

''Though we have been seeing construction activities for the past year, there has been a marked acceleration in the past four months,'' said a government official.

Reports say Chinese construction activities could be seen from Shaktot village, about 5 km from the Indian border point of Kaurik, which is the last village situated beyond Sumdoh.

The standoff has affected the annual cross-border trade through traditional mountain trails and passes, which begins in the last week of June and ends in November.

The local administration has approved trade permits to 52 applicants this year, but is yet to give them permission for go to China.

The Chinese foreign ministry had issued a 15-page dossier notifying India to take "concrete actions" by immediately pulling back troops+ from Doklam. It further stated that India's "intrusion" into Chinese territory under the pretext of Bhutan has not only "violated China's territorial sovereignty but also challenged Bhutan's sovereignty and independence".

"We are willing to talk but both sides should take back their army to original position. As long as it was between China and Bhutan, we had nothing to do with it. But we are involved in tri-junction this time and its directly related to us. If china will change status quo, then this is a threat to our security," external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj had said in the Rajya Sabbha.

The dispute at Doklam emerged on 16 June, when the Indian Army stopped Chinese troops from constructing roads along the India-China border in the Sikkim sector. India claims Sikkim border as part of its territory, while China has said that the area falls on their side as per the 1890 treaty signed between China and British.

China on Wednesday issued a statement on Indian border troops' crossing of the China-India border in the Sikkim sector to appraise the international community on its stance on the matter, according to a press statement by foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang.

India's action "severely violates" China's territorial integrity and poses "grave challenges" to regional peace and stability, said Geng.

According to the Chinese foreign ministry, over 270 Indian troops crossed the Sikkim sector of the China-India border and obstructed Chinese road works in the Dong Lang area (Doklam) on 18 June. It also pointed out that as of end July, over 40 members of the Indian military and one piece of heavy earth-moving equipment remained in Chinese territory.

India, however, maintained that it has not reduced troop strength in the area and that 340 security personnel are stationed there to guard against any Chinese activity.

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