“The Chinese people treasure peace and we absolutely do not engage in invasion and expansion. However, we have the confidence to conquer all forms of invasion,” Xi said. “We absolutely will not permit any person, any organization, any political party — at any time, in any form — to separate any piece of Chinese territory from China…No one should expect us to swallow the bitter fruit of damage to our sovereignty, security and development interests.”
The standoff near Bhutan continues, but several new things happened that are worth discussing. On 3 August, the Chinese Foreign Ministry published a 15-page statement with maps, photographs and documents. It said the “illegal action” by “trespassing” Indian soldiers “not only violated China’s territorial sovereignty, but also challenged Bhutan’s sovereignty and independence”.
The Chinese later stated that India reduced its military presence to just over 40 soldiers by 31 July, down from 400 earlier in the 45-day standoff.
On the 3rd, India denied that it withdrew any of its troops and claimed the Chinese contingent likewise was stable, at about 400 soldiers.
India’s official response to the Chinese document was, “India considers that peace and tranquility in the India-China border areas are important prerequisites for smooth development of our bilateral relations with China.”
The timing of the Chinese document contributed to the perception that the crisis had eased. On 27 July, India’s national security advisor Ajit Doval discussed the standoff with his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, in Beijing.
This created a cause-and-effect appearance which was a deliberately managed perception that India concurred in the Chinese document. In fact, Indian news services reported the talks achieved no breakthrough.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry reported that Yang held a bilateral meeting with Doval “at his request and in accordance with the practice.” It said China conveyed its firm stand to India that it must take “concrete actions” by immediately pulling back troops from the Doklam plateau with “no strings attached” to resolve the standoff.
One of the parties is dissembling, but the standoff seems stable. No soldiers from either country has fired a shot at the others for 45 days. The Chinese might be trying to use propaganda to ease the tension without making any changes on the ground.
It is almost absurd that the relations between these two Asian giants could be frozen by a road improvement project. The Chinese will not back down, but they seem prepared to move on, if a formula or appropriate ruse may be found.
On China’s sovereignty. Concerning the issue of sovereignty, on 30 July at the military parade honoring the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army, President Xi Jinping spoke strong language.
These remarks are the most authoritative, succinct and emphatic statement of Chinese law and policy about alienation of Chinese territory. This language applies to the Indian standoff area as well as to the South and East China Seas. It is directed at India as well as to the US.
Powerful interests in China’s leadership favor using force to defend Chinese sovereignty. President Xi might be one of them. In any case, he cannot afford to appear weak on issues of sovereignty. The message is that once China declares that it is sovereign over a territory, China will be prepared to use force to defend it.
On 2 August, China officially opened its new logistics base at Djibouti. This is China’s first and only base outside Chinese territory.
As for never engaging in invasion, the Vietnamese who survived the Chinese invasion of northern Vietnam in 1979 might disagree with Xi, as might the Indians who remember the Sino-Indian War of 1962. The Chinese apparently differentiate between an invasion and teaching a lesson to a neighbor. And then there’s the invasion of Tibet (still occupied).