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China Tells India That It Won’t Back Down in Border Dispute

As if to underline the warning, a Chinese newspaper on Friday reported that the People’s Liberation Army had recently held artillery exercises with live ammunition in Tibet, the region near the disputed land. Global Times, a popular party-run paper, said on its website that the exercises, at 15,000 feet above sea level, included simulated long-distance attacks on armored units and missile launchers.

In a separate editorial, Global Times said India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, had failed to grasp that Chinese military forces would crush Indian border forces in a conflict.

“If war breaks out, the Liberation Army will use its thunderous might to deliver a painful lesson to India,” the paper said on Friday. “The Modi government should understand the powerful delivery capabilities and overwhelming firepower of the Liberation Army.”

As the rhetoric from Beijing has escalated in recent days, India has sought to play down the risks of a continued standoff, saying, without offering specifics, that its diplomats were actively engaging with China behind the scenes. In a statement this week, China said that India was already on the retreat, having drawn down the number of troops engaged in the confrontation to less than 50, from 400.

Indian officials have privately dismissed that claim, suggesting that Indians outnumber Chinese three to one at the point of confrontation, but they have said nothing in public.

“The game has been to not respond,” said Ajai Shukla, a former colonel in the Indian Army who is strategic affairs editor at the newspaper Business Standard. He said the Indian authorities were hoping that China’s bluster was intended as a “rhetorical cover” for the withdrawal of troops.

But it may prove difficult to stall into the winter, as Indian officials have suggested hopefully. One problem is growing frustration on the part of Bhutan, which has tried to steer a middle path between its two giant neighbors, enjoying close relations with India without antagonizing China.


Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping in Xi’an, China, in 2015. The border between their countries is rife with longstanding territorial disputes. Credit Kim Kyung-Hoon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

At a news conference on Friday, a spokesman for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs was asked repeatedly whether Bhutan had requested India’s military intervention, a question that India has not answered directly. The spokesman, Gopal Baglay, responded by invoking the lyrics of a Hindi song: “If you understand hints, let secrets be secrets.”

The risks of military conflict between China and India were slim, but worrisome, and the dispute could be a drag on ties for a long time, said Prof. Zhang Li, an expert on India at Sichuan University in southwest China.

“We can’t totally rule out a limited military conflict if things get out of control,” he said by telephone. “But for now the chances are slight. Both sides are still looking for a diplomatic solution.”

Mr. Modi is to attend a summit meeting in eastern China early next month for the leaders of the BRICS countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. But Mr. Modi may pull out if the contention continues, Professor Zhang said.

“The gap between the positions of the two sides is big,” Professor Zhang said. “If this continues, the event will be affected.”

The standoff over the territory started in June, when Bhutan discovered Chinese workers extending an unpaved road on the Doklam Plateau, part of the disputed territory. When India sent troops and equipment to halt the roadwork and push back the Chinese workers, China accused India of intruding into its territory and of strong-arming Bhutan into going along. Since then Indian and Chinese troops have held a wary standoff hundreds of feet from each other.

On Friday, an editorial in People’s Daily, the main official paper of the Chinese Communist Party, amplified the warnings that Beijing would not back down.

“No country should underestimate the determination of the Chinese government and people to defend territorial sovereignty,” the unsigned editorial said. “China will take whatever measures are necessary to safeguard its legitimate rights and interests.”

Even if the military jostling dies down, the dispute has brought to a head a souring in Chinese-Indian relations.

India’s prime minister, Mr. Modi, and China’s president, Xi Jinping, have tried to warm relations by promoting trade and personal rapport. But the 2,520-mile border between the two countries is rife with longstanding territorial disputes involving them and their neighbors, and in 1962 the two countries fought a brief war that ended badly for India. Negotiations since the 1980s to settle the disputes have made little progress.

A quarrel flared in 2015 while Mr. Modi visited China to smooth over rifts and promote economic ties.

Public opinion in both countries bristles at any challenges to territorial claims, and Mr. Xi emphasized this week that the People’s Liberation Army should stand prepared to ward off threats to Chinese sovereignty.

“We will never permit anybody, any organization, any political party to split off any piece of Chinese territory from China at any time or in any form,” Mr. Xi said in Beijing on Tuesday at a meeting to mark 90 years since the army was formed. “Nobody would nurse any hope that we will swallow the bitter fruit of harm to our national sovereignty, security and development interests.”

Source: NYT > World

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