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4 Aug 2017

Sushma skirts 'pullback'- ... 400 Indian troops tresspassed " in Doklam, - China claimed

TT, New Delhi, Aug. 3: Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj today stayed silent on China's claim that India had withdrawn most of its troops from a standoff territory but Beijing kept up the pressure by asserting that anyone could "double-check" the figure and the presence of even one soldier would be "intolerable".
Sushma's silence on the troops stood out because she had omitted the topic even while accusing China of misrepresenting past letters from Indian leaders and officials to claim the Sikkim-Tibet border as settled. The standoff is on at a plateau called Doklam that is claimed by both China and Bhutan.
The Chinese foreign ministry had said yesterday that from the "over 400 trespassing Indian troops" in Doklam near the Sikkim border, the number had come down to "over 40" by the end of July.
While the Indian foreign ministry did not comment on the claim yesterday, defence ministry officials had contested it while seeking anonymity and refusing comment on record - an insistence that contrasted sharply with the Chinese move of uploading its version on its foreign ministry's official website.
Today, Sushma skirted the topic of troop reduction, focusing on the futility of war and the need for a diplomatic solution.
"War is not a solution to any dispute.... Even if you have a war, you need talks after that between victor and vanquished, so it makes more sense to hold talks without a war," Sushma told the Rajya Sabha.
But the Chinese embassy in New Delhi not only repeated the claim on the Indian troop reduction but also cited a figure that was more specific than "over 40". It said China had counted "48 Indian soldiers" at the disputed spot as on Thursday.
"Right now, I can tell you that there are 48 Indian soldiers in our territory and they are still standing (across from) our troops," said Liu Jinsong, China's deputy chief of mission, adding that China was open to allowing anyone to "double-check" that figure.
He then added that "even if there is one single soldier in Doklam, that is a violation of Chinese territory and that is intolerable".
Asked if China had a timeline in mind for the withdrawal of Indian troops from the plateau, he warned of "serious consequences" if India did not pull its soldiers out immediately. "We don't want to wait for another single day, single hour," Liu said.
In the Rajya Sabha, although Sushma steered clear of any references to India's troops on the plateau, she hit out at Rahul Gandhi for meeting the Chinese ambassador over the border spat instead of seeking a briefing from the Indian foreign secretary.
"He should have understood the Indian government's position and then confronted the Chinese ambassador with it," she said.
Foreign ambassadors in India routinely meet leaders from across the political spectrum. Many had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he was Gujarat chief minister.
Sushma said Beijing had "selectively quoted" from letters former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had written to then Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai in 1959, and from a 2006 note exchanged between their border negotiators, to bolster its case in a statement yesterday.
The Chinese statement, a 15-page litany of accusations against India over the standoff on a plateau near their tri-junction with Bhutan, had quoted from those letters and notes to suggest that India had accepted the Sikkim-Tibet border as settled.
"We have noticed that the Chinese side has selectively quoted parts of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's letter," Sushma said. "A full and accurate account of that letter would have also brought out that Prime Minister Nehru's assertion was clearly based on the alignment shown in Indian public maps."
The foreign minister said Beijing had proposed settling the border based on an 1890 treaty between China and Britain that laid down the basis for the delineation of the boundary and had marked out some points of that boundary.
China made that proposal in a 2006 "non-paper" - a discussion paper that is not a part of the official agenda - at a meeting of their then border negotiators, known as the special representatives, Sushma said. India's special representative at the time was M.K. Narayanan.
"Subsequently, in special representative meetings, the Chinese side has made the proposal for finalising the boundary in the Sikkim sector, terming it as an 'early harvest', thus clearly confirming that the boundary in the Sikkim sector is not finalised," Sushma said.
"Otherwise, they would not have used the term 'early harvest', by which they basically mean 'low-hanging fruit'."
At a meeting of the special representatives in December 2012 - former national security adviser Shivshankar Menon was India's special representative then - the two countries did agree on the "basis of the alignment" of the Sikkim-Tibet border, she said.
The basis of the alignment they had agreed on was the one outlined in the 1890 convention - the watershed principle that connects the highest points in the region. But India has insisted that the two countries never agreed on an actual border alignment based on that principle.
Liu today contested that position, contending that the 2012 agreement had referred to demarcating the tri-junction, not the border itself.
He accused India of pulling Bhutan into the spat, pointing to a 10-day delay between the start of the standoff and Bhutan's first and only public statement on it. He said that though China and Bhutan did have differences over their border, that did not offer India a "pretext" to enter either's territory.
India has also said that a Chinese takeover of the plateau could effectively shift the tri-junction point with Bhutan. Sushma today read out a part of the written agreement between India and China after the 2012 meeting between their special representatives that stated that all tri-junctions with third countries "will be finalised in consultation with the concerned countries".
India and China have not spoken with Bhutan on their tri-junction since that 2012 meeting, Sushma said.
"Our concerns emanate from Chinese actions on the ground, which have implications for the determination of the tri-junction boundary point between India, China and Bhutan and the alignment of the India-China boundary in the Sikkim sector," Sushma said.
But China had on Wednesday contended that security concerns did not legitimise entering the sovereign territory of another nation.

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