China is calling on the United States to stay out of an ongoing standoff between the People’s Republic and neighboring India, which are locking horns as Washington seeks to utilize warming ties with New Delhi against Beijing.
Ji Rong, spokesperson for China’s embassy in India, criticized remarks made earlier this week by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, who blamed the tense row at the contested Galwan Valley region on Beijing’s “outsized demands to claim sovereign territory” during a discussion with the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum. Using familiar terminology, the Chinese diplomat accused Biegun of harboring a “zero-sum Cold War mentality” and characterized seven decades of Communist Party rule as peaceful.
While modern China has managed to largely avoid all-out wars it has long been in embroiled in a bitter disputed over the ill-defined Himalayan highlands that link it to India. The conflict, which sparked a war in 1962, turned deadly again in June and led to new confrontations this week for which both sides have emphasized a strictly bilateral solution.
“Regarding the China-India boundary issue, China always advocates finding a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution through peaceful and friendly consultations,” Ji said. “For a period of time, the two sides have been in touch and in talks at various levels to seek peaceful settlement of the boundary issue.”
“China and India have the ability to resolve their border disputes bilaterally,” she added. “We don’t accept countries outside the region pointing fingers, let alone meddling or making instigation, which will only endanger the regional peace and stability.”
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As with most skirmishes along the Line of Actual Control, the details of the latest incidents were murky, with both countries ultimately accusing the other of crossing or trying to “change the status quo” in terms of territory on Sunday.
The Chinese side demanded India withdraw its troops after they crossed into a site south of Pangong Lake, while Indian officials claimed to have thwarted an infiltration attempt there. Both Beijing and New Delhi have emphasized they remained in contact both through military and diplomatic channels to defuse tensions, even as they vowed to defend their positions on the ground.
Indian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava told a press briefing Thursday that ground commanders were “still holding discussions to resolve the situation.”
“We reiterate the consensus reached between the two foreign ministers and special representatives that the situation on the border should be handled in a responsible manner and either side should not take any provocative action or escalate matters,” Srivastava told reporters.
He blamed a series of escalations since May at the flashpoint between India-administered Ladakh and China-administered Aksai Chin squarely on Chinese actions that he argued had “resulted in violations of the bilateral agreements and protocol that ensured peace and tranquility in the border areas for close to three decades.”
“Now, the way ahead is negotiations,” he added, calling for sincere efforts to disengage and deescalate the situation.
As the encounter unfolded earlier this week, Indian Army spokesperson Colonel Aman Anand told Newsweek on Monday that “no physical clashes” had occurred, but reports have emerged on the death of a Tibet-origin soldier attached to India’s elite Special Frontier Force. The cause, however, is unclear.
The Indian military declined Newsweek’s request for comment on the matter, while Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told a press conference on Tuesday that no Indian forces had died after they “illegally crossed” the border. She did say, however, that she was aware of media reports that an Indian soldier was killed in a nearby vehicular accident around this time.
She also cast suspicion on the role of ethnic Tibetan forces at the border and their ties to India and the United States, both of which have supported separatism against Beijing in the massive majority-Buddhist region spanning a large part of western China. “We firmly oppose any country providing convenience in any form for the ‘Tibet independence’ forces’ separatist activities,” Hua said.
She reiterated this message the following day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recently announced campaign to more deeply infuse his government’s brand of socialism to build an “impregnable fortress” of stability in Tibet. The top U.S. diplomat expressed concern and called on Xi to enter into direct talks with exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
But Hua contended that “Tibet has been China’s territory since ancient times, and its affairs are purely China’s internal affairs that brook no interference by any external forces” at her Thursday briefing.
“Since its peaceful liberation more than 60 years ago, Tibet has made historic progress in economic, social, cultural, ecological and other fields,” she said. “We urge the U.S. side to stop finger-pointing and interfering in China’s internal affairs on Tibet-related issues.”
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A map shows a selected series of China’s territorial disputes in the region as of January 1.U.S. Department of Defense
Relations between Washington and Beijing continue to deteriorate as President Donald Trump’s administration rails Xi’s government on an extensive list of trade, security and humanitarian abuses that China views as an attempt to merely safeguard global U.S. hegemony.
For geopolitical support, the U.S. has enlisted India as well as Australia and Japan part of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” group to enforce unrestricted navigation in a region where China holds vast territorial claims at sea. While unlike Canberra and Tokyo, New Delhi has no mutual defense treaty with Washington, the U.S. “major defense partner” has become increasingly important to the country’s posture in Asia.
“U.S.-India defense and military cooperation has increased significantly over the past two decades as part of the overall strengthening of our bilateral relationship, which reflects a deepening strategic convergence on a range of issues,” a State Department spokesperson recently told Newsweek.
“The U.S.-India partnership advances our shared commitment to advance democracy and the rule of law, freedom of navigation, counterterrorism, and private sector-led economic growth in the Indo-Pacific region and globally,” the spokesperson added.