Will a dispute over paving a road lead to war between the world’s largest armies?
China on Monday warned India not to “push [its] luck” by underestimating Beijing’s determination to safeguard what it considers sovereign Chinese territory, amid an ongoing standoff between the two neighbors over a contested region high in the Himalayas.
Defense ministry spokesman Col. Wu Qian reiterated China’s demand that Indian troops pull back from the Doklam Plateau, an area also claimed by Indian ally Bhutan where Chinese teams had been building a road toward India’s border.
“China’s determination and resolve to safeguard national security and sovereignty is unshakable,” Wu said at a news conference to mark the upcoming 90th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army.
“Here, I wish to remind India, do not push your luck and cling to any fantasies,” Wu said. “The 90-year history of the PLA [China’s People’s Liberation Army] has proved but one thing: that our military means to secure our country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity has strengthened and our determination has never wavered. It is easier to shake a mountain than to shake the PLA.”
India has called for both sides to withdraw forces and a negotiated settlement to the standoff that began last month after Chinese troops began working to extend southward the road from Yadong in Tibet.
While the sides have exercised restraint thus far, heated rhetoric in both Beijing and New Delhi has raised concern over a renewal of hostilities that resulted in a brief but bloody frontier war between the sides in 1962. The nuclear-armed neighbors share a 3,500-kilometer (2,174-mile) border, much of it contested, and China acts as a key ally and arms supplier for India’s arch rival, Pakistan.
The crisis is expected to be discussed when Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval visits Beijing at the end of this week for a security forum under the BRICS group of large developing nations that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
The standoff has been fueled in part by a muscular and increasingly vociferous nationalism among both the Chinese and Indian publics against the background of competition for dominance between the two for influence in Asia.
India has felt threatened by the growing presence of China’s navy, diplomats and state-backed companies in the Indian Ocean region, while Beijing resents closer relations between New Delhi and Washington. India’s decision not to participate in a massive Chinese-funded push to develop infrastructure and transport routes in Asia, known as the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, has also rankled Beijing.
Keeping up a weeks-long propaganda assault on New Delhi, official Chinese newspapers on Monday again labeled India’s actions on the Doklam Plateau as illegal and threatening to China’s security.
“Even if the standoff is resolved diplomatically, it has already crippled the bilateral relationship. This will have a long-term impact on Sino-Indian ties,” Chinese India scholar Long Xingchun wrote in the Global Times, a nationalistic tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party.