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India-China border crisis slams into a wall

Updated August 09, 2017

NEW DELHI: India’s diplomatic efforts to end a seven-week military standoff with China have hit a roadblock, people briefed on the talks said, prompting Chinese state-run media to trumpet rhetoric of “unavoidable countermeasures” on the unmarked border.

China has insisted that India unilaterally withdraw its troops from the remote Doklam plateau claimed by both Beijing and Indian ally Bhutan.

But China did not respond to India’s suggestion in the talks that it move its troops back 820 ft in return, said one source with close ties to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

In the low-key diplomatic manoeuvres that took place outside the public eye, the Chinese countered with an offer to move back 328 ft, so long as they received clearance from top government officials.

But there has been no comeback since, except for China’s mounting warnings of an escalation in the region, which it calls Donglang. “It is a logjam, there is no movement at all now,” said a second source with knowledge of the talks.

In Beijing, China’s Foreign Ministry, which has repeatedly urged India to withdraw, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the state of talks.

Indian troops went into Doklam in mid-June to stop a Chinese construction crew from extending a road India’s military says will bring China’s army too close for comfort in the northeast. Their faceoff since, military experts say, is the most serious since going toe-to-toe in the 1980s, with thousands of soldiers each, elsewhere along the 3,500-km border.

China has held off going to war in the hope New Delhi would see reason, the state-run Global Times, which has kept up a barrage of hostile commentary, said on Tuesday.

“If the Narendra Modi government continues ignoring the warning coming from a situation spiralling out of control, countermeasures from China will be unavoidable,” it said.

“There will be no happy ending for this confrontation,” Indian foreign policy expert C. Raja Mohan wrote in The Indian Express newspaper, adding that India was unlikely to give in.

The second source said the worry was the standoff could drag on into a summit of BRICs nations China is hosting next month.

Indian military officials say there is no troop buildup on either side, nearly two months into a standoff that involved about 300 soldiers just 328 ft apart on a plateau 10,000 ft above sea level.

China has accused India of massing troops, however, and state media have warned against a fate worse than its defeat in a brief border war in 1962.

Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2017