China Disputes Indian Version of 2012 Understanding on Border Tri-junction

Senior Chinese diplomat also said that though Indian troops levels at the stand-off point are down to 40, "even if there is one single soldier in Doklam, that is a violation of Chinese territory and that is intolerable."

New Delhi: Adding a new dimension to the border standoff that has already lasted over two months, China for the first time has  officially disputed India’s interpretation of the 2012 understanding between the special representatives of the two countries on the status of border tri-junctions.

Speaking to a small group of journalists a day after Beijing appeared to have upped the ante on the diplomatic front by releasing an official position paper on the Doklam stand-off, the deputy chief of mission of the Chinese embassy in Delhi, Liu Jinsong, took issue with what India has said about the 2012 agreement. He also raised questions about the delay in Bhutan’s ‘protest’ at China’s road-building, and continued to assert that Indian troop levels at the point of confrontation has come down from three figures to two.

Expanding on a point in the 15-page Chinese document, Liu said that the India was “notified” through mechanisms at the border troop level about its intended road construction at Doklam on two separate occasions. “We notified Indian authorities on May 18. Then on June 8. (This was) the second time. It is within China’s sovereign right to conduct construction activities for transportation facilities within our territory,” he said, adding that there was no response till the Indian troops came in from Sikkim.

At the time of publication, the Indian foreign ministry had not reverted on a question from The Wire on this Chinese claim.

‘Serious consequences’

Asserting that India should “immediately” withdraw troops from Doklam, Liu added that there could be “serious consequences”.

“We don’t want to wait for another single day, single hour. I am sure that you understand the meaning of immediately in English, Hindi or Chinese,” he added, when asked if China was putting in place a deadline for withdrawal.

Describing the Indian move as “undisciplined”, he said that it was “extremely risky and harmful” to Indian interests. 

He later clarified that there were “no such military action is mentioned in relating to serious consequences from Chinese side”.

In the same breath, however, Liu referred to the Chinese president’s speech on August 1 to mark 90 years of the founding of the PLA. As per the Chinese diplomat, Xi said that “there are many options available for China to safeguard peace, security… but the military option is the fundamental guarantee”.

Differing claims on soldiers

China began constructing a road in Doklam on June 16. The Bhutan foreign ministry in its statement on June 29 noted that the road was being constructed by Chinese PLA till their post on Zompelri ridge. The Royal Bhutanese army troops tried to “dissuade” the Chinese troops that the construction of the road inside Bhutanese territory is a direct violation of its 1988 and 1998 bilateral agreements and called for a return to the status quo ante of June 16, 2017. 

India says it sent its soldiers across in response to Bhutan’s request. At their peak, the number of Indian troops in Doklam have been estimated at 350-400.

Liu reiterated Beijing’s claim, made on Wednesday, that India had since brought down the number of troops at the stand-off point from 400 to “over 40”.

“Right now, I can tell you that there are 48 Indian soldiers in our territory and they are still standing [across from] our troops,” he said.

He, however, did not directly answer a question on what China was trying to convey or signal by revealing the number of Indian troops at the confrontation site.“I suggest you ask the Indian government for what kind of indication this decrease in troops mean,” said Liu.

Liu also refused to answer queries about the number of Chinese soldiers at Doklam, stating that this was a “military secret”.

He acknowledged that his numbers stood in contrast to off-the-record claims from Indian government officials, who maintain that troop levels have remained constant since the beginning of the face-off.

“I want to point out that in yesterday and today’s newspapers, so-called government sources have been saying that there are still about 400 indian troops in dong lang (Doklam) area. But, we believe that our figures is correct and open for double-check,” he asserted. He added that stressing high Indian troop levels at Doklam was “not conducive to a solution”.

HAt the same time, however, he noted that the number of Indian troops at Doklam – “whether 400 or 40” – is not key. “The number is important, but more important is their nature – of staying inside Chinese territory…even if there is one single soldier in Doklam, that is a violation of Chinese territory and that is intolerable”

Since June 26, the Chinese diplomatic machinery has been very active in issuing statements, nearly every other day. So far, India has issued only one major statement, on June 30 – a day after the Bhutanese foreign ministry made public its position.

Till now, Chinese diplomats and even the 15-page Chinese position paper had remained silent on two key issues – India’s mention of a 2012 understanding between special representatives on tri-junctions, and Bhutan’s official protest at the road being built by China in Doklam.

The June 30 Indian statement noted that the two governments had reached an agreement in 2012 that the tri-junction would be decided in consultation between India, China and third countries. In relation to Sikkim, India claimed that New Delhi and Beijing reached an understanding in 2012 “reconfirming their mutual agreement on the “basis of the alignment”. “Further discussions regarding finalisation of the boundary have been taking place under the Special Representatives framework,” India had said.

For the first time, Liu disputed India’s interpretation of the 2012 ‘understanding’. “What was agreed in the 2012 understanding was that in the future, the parties will conduct demarcation on the side of the  tri-junction area. this serves to prove that the Indian side had agreed to the fact that the tri-junction area has been established at least on paper,” he said.

The senior Chinese diplomat said that the  “bone of contention is not what is stated in the 2012 understanding, but what is stated in 1890 convention”.

He claimed that it was in “black and white” that mount Gipmochi is the tri-junction point and not Batang La. “It is not possible for India to carry the Gipmochi mountain for eight kilometres to the Batang La area. So, we can’t but help wonder what is the logic to India’s claim,” he said, adding that even the watershed principle proved that the tri-junction point is at Gipmochi. 

“In Article 1 of 1890 convention, the alignment of the boundary line between Tibet and Sikkim is clearly established,” he said.

The Chinese diplomat also claimed that there were various “findings of some Chinese and Indian scholars” from historical documents that Gipmochi is the tri-junction point. He cited maps provided in journals of the British Indian Royal Geographical Society, British Indian Sikkim communique of 1894 and Hertslet’s commercial treaties of 1893.

[In fact, as this analysis by Manoj Joshi has argued, there is actually uncertainty about the location of Gipmochi]

Referring to Bhutan’s official statement, he said that there was no mention of the tri-junction in the 1998 agreement between China and Bhutan 

“What was mentioned was that the two sides reaffirmed that two countries should respect the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of each other. We are ready to develop neighbourly relations based on five principles of co-existence,” he said.

He reiterated the Chinese position that India had “drawn” Bhutan into the dispute between the two Asian giants.

“The fact that the Bhutanese government released the statement more than 10 days after the incident speaks to the fact,” he said, adding that there “must be [an] untold story behind the Bhutanese action”.

When asked to confirm if Bhutanese troops had asked Chinese soldiers to stop construction activity, he demurred. “It is a matter between China and Bhutan”, he said.

‘Bhutan and China have differences but India can’t use that as pretext’

He also asserted that there never had been any dispute between China and Bhutan in the Doklam area, which he said had been administered by China for a “long time”, with no objection from Bhutan government. 

“Actually, the Bhutanese side does have some different views regarding the alignment and the exact position of the boundary between China and Bhutan during our boundary negotiations. But, that doesn’t mean India is entitled to use Bhutan as pretext to cross the boundary and reach the Chinese territory,” said Liu.

He admitted that there were “some words and phrases” in the Bhutan foreign ministry’s statement on which “we do not see eye-to-eye or do not accept”. But, even with caveat, the second highest ranking Chinese diplomat in India said that “it is not possible to infer from that statement… that the Bhutanese government invited Indian troops to that area”.

‘Don’t let boundary issues spillover to the overall relationship’

Referring to the MEA response to the Chinese position paper, Liu said, “I did notice the MEA statement that the solution of the standoff is pre-requisite of future relationship. I don’t agree with it”.

He added that as early as 1988, the two sides had agreed to “not let boundary issues spill over into overall relationship”.  

This would be good news for South Block, since the Indian government had been saying that disputes should be allowed to cast a shadow over bilateral ties, citing the Astana principles.

Liu also specified that the stand-off will not impact the forthcoming BRICS summit in Xiamen, China. Stating that all countries had a stake in a successful summit, he noted, “the Indian side has already made relevant arrangements… this standoff is a bilateral issue. This is totally different issue. They are separate”.

“As for whether there will be bilateral meetings (between the Chinese president and Indian PM) or bilateral visits, it is still too early to call. It is still open for diplomatic channels to discuss. You can also ask the MEA officials about this,” he added.

To another question if the annual meeting of special representatives will take place as scheduled later this year, Liu said, “That is a regular yearly meeting, under normal circumstances. It still remains to be discussed through diplomatic channels.

Stating that the Sikkim sector was “settled”, he added that this was out of the purview of the mechanism of the special representatives. “It is not discussed under the framework of the SR mechanism,” he added, noting that it is only about negotiations about the “unsettled border”.

Excerpts from the interaction:

Liu Jinsong: There are five major points in the Chinese position.

First is that Doklam area or Dong Lang is Chinese territory. It is Indian border troops that invaded or trespassed into Chinese territory and illegally stayed there for a long time. This incident is totally different in nature from the past frictions which took place in the unsettled border areas between China and India. It is very severe in nature.

The second point is that the Sikkim sector of China-India boundary has been delimited by the convention between Britain and China 1890 convention. The Indian border troops have crossed a delimited boundary. They have encroached on China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. They have violated the treaty and United Nations Charter and trampled on international law.

Third, this incident has nothing to do with the tri-junction point on India, China and Bhutan. The tri-junction point was already established in the 1890 convention. The Indian side has no right to unilaterally change the position or the location of the tri-junction point. Nor is it entitled to violate China’s sovereign territory under the pretext of tri-junction point. Indian side also claimed that they crossed the boundary into Chinese territory on the basis of so-called security concerns. We believe that this is illegal and unacceptable to any sovereign state.

Fourth point, India has no right to interfere or get involved in the boundary negotiations between China and Bhutan. They can’t make territorial claims on behalf of Bhutan. The Indian side invaded into Chinese territory using Bhutan as a pretext. This not only violates China’s sovereignty but also challenges the sovereignty and independence of Bhutan.

Five, India should immediately withdraw its border troops to Indian side of the boundary and conduct a thorough and serious investigation into the trespass. This is the perquisite and basis for a solution… China will take all necessary steps to safeguard its legitimate rights and interests. Indian side is required not to misinterpret China’s utmost goodwill.

There are communication mechanism at the border areas between China and India, including the Sikkim sector – and we have maintained good communication all over the years.

The road construction activities are not new developments. Actually, they have taken place many years ago.

As for the case in point, we notified the Indian side on our road construction activities on May 18. That was the first time. One month before the incident happened. Then we notified again the Indian side on June 8. That was the second time.

Actually as a matter of fact, it is within China’s sovereign right to conduct construction activities to improve transportation facilities within our territory.

But out of our goodwill towards the Indian side and also as a confidence building measure between the two sides, we notified the Indian side anyway.

However, without any response to our notification, the Indian side sent armed troops to the sites of the road construction and obstructed mobile activities of the Chinese side, which is very shocking for us. This represents trampling of the goodwill of the Chinese side.

Was this information given at ministry or military level?

All the troops have this kind of existing mechanism.

What was the context and intention behind mentioning that Indian troop levels have declined at the stand-off?

Right now I can tell you that there are 48 Indian soldiers in our territory, and they are still standing with our forces.

I suggest you ask the Indian government for what kind of indication this decrease of troops mean. But I want to point out that from yesterday and today’s newspapers, there has been so-called government sources saying that there are still about 400 Indian troops in Dong Lang area. But we believe that our figures is correct and open for double-check.

What I want to say is that the number of troops at Dong Lang area is not most important. Four hundred or 40, they are all trespassers in another territory.

What is important is for Indian troops to withdraw immediately into the Indian side of the boundary. One more day of their stay in Chinese territory is another day of violation of China’s sovereign right.

The document released yesterday (August 2) is silent on two points – Bhutan government’s formal protest and the 2012 understanding reached by India and Chinese special representatives at tri-junction. What is the Chinese position on these two events?

In the 1998 agreement between China and Bhutan, there is no mention of tri-junction point. What was mentioned is that two sides reaffirmed that two countries should respect the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of each other. We are ready to develop neighbourly relations based on five principles of co-existence.

Actually the understanding that you mentioned that was reached in 2012 in the special representatives meeting could serve as a footnote on China…which is that the tri-junction has been decided in 1890 convention.

What was agreed in 2012 understanding was that in the future, all the parties will conduct demarcation on the side of the  tri-junction area. This serves to prove that the Indian side had agreed to the fact that tri-junction area has been established, at least on paper.

I want to point to the fact that 1890 was established between Qing government and British government. Britain signed on behalf of Sikkim and Tibet due to their dominant role in that period of history. That convention determined the position of the boundary separating Sikkim and Bhutan.

Ever since 1980s, Bhutan and China have had productive boundary negotiations. From Bhutanese side, they have raised no challenge to the boundary. They have conducted joint surveys and reached a consensus.

Actually, the bone of contention is not what is stated in the 2012 understanding. It is what is stated in the 1890 convention. In Article 1 of the 1890 convention, the alignment of the boundary line between Tibet and Sikkim is clearly established.

Now what the Indian side is trying to do is to dilute the legal status of the Gyemochen (Gipmochi) mountain, which is regarded as the tri-junction point between Bhutan, Sikkim and China…(and) also deny the legal status of the tri-junction and claim Batang La as the tri-junction. It is written in the convention in black and white and the mountain is there.

It is not possible for India to carry the Gyemochen mountain for eight kilometres to the Batang La area. So we can’t help but wonder what is the logic to India’s claim. Does India have any other claim to Doklam area of China?

In international law, no country can go back on its words. All the promises must be kept… No country can make wishful and selective interpretation of articles of international treaties. This approach will not be acceptable between lawyers, scholars or politicians or diplomats of the world.

Now, the incident is between India and China. But what India is trying to do is to draw Bhutan into the mix and to make Bhutan as a pretext for its own ends.

The fact that the Bhutanese side released the statement more than ten days after the incident on June 29 speaks to this fact. I am sure that the Indian side will know pretty well why the Bhutanese side is so reluctant and acting so slowly.

Bhutan has only two neighbours and shares borders with India and China. I think both countries need to respect Bhutan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, especially independent foreign policy, and respect its comfort level.

Bhutan’s statement said that road construction is not as per the agreement illegal. But this has not been mentioned in the factsheet.

I also reviewed the Bhutanese statement. As far as I remember, I didn’t notice the word ‘illegal’. But I am sure that all of you can understand that there must be some untold stories behind the Bhutanese action… Under that circumstances, there must be very difficult considerations from the Bhutanese side.

As for the territorial dispute between China and Bhutan in the Doklam area, actually there is no dispute between them. China has exercised administrative power over that part of the territory for a long time in history and Bhutanese side had no objection.

Actually the Bhutanese side does have some different views regarding the alignment and the exact position of the boundary between China and Bhutan during our boundary negotiations. But that doesn’t mean India is entitled to use Bhutan as a pretext to cross the boundary and reach the Chinese territory.

Even if there are some words and phrases in the Bhutanese statement which the Chinese side do not see eye-to-eye with or do not accept, it is not possible to infer from those statements that the Bhutanese governments knows beforehand about the Indian side’s plans.. to send Indian troops into that area.

I want to emphasise that the point is that now the issue is between India and China, it is caused by Indian troops crossing the boundary into China’s territory. What the Indian government did is to draw Bhutan and get Bhutan involved in this dispute and to put Bhutan into a very difficult and embarrassing position.

This is actually a violation of Bhutan’s sovereignty and independence. Indian side should put its own house in good order and withdraw its troops and refrain from making issues under the cover of other countries.

Why are you giving so much legitimacy to the 1890 treaty when it was signed with a colonial government?

If you ask this question to MEA or government or legal experts in India government, they will be very cautious. Because actually today’s size of the Indian territory is determined by previous treaties entered into by the British Raj. Reluctant they may be, but they have inherited it from history.

According to international legal theory, boundaries – as long as they are determined – are inviolable and enjoy stability.

Even if a country turned from a monarchy into a republic, or even if ruling party changed from one to another, it remains.

Actually, the 1890 convention was indeed established under very unique historical circumstances. However, despite that, successive Chinese government after establishment of new China have recognised this convention.

We did this because we want to maintain tranquillity and peace, at least at that sector of the boundary.

I want to remind you of the historical fact that in the past, the kingdom of Sikkim had a special relationship with Tibet. Maybe you are also aware of the fact that in 1888, when the British colonial forces invaded China, the Chinese people and army fought a fierce war of resistance against the British army in Sikkim.

Despite this bitter history, we recognised the 1890 convention. I think this establishes China’s utmost goodwill and sincerity towards India in maintaining peace and tranquilly in that side of the boundary.

I hope the Indian side will not misinterpret the intention of the Chinese side.

China has 14 land neighbours and we have a settled and demarcated boundary with 12 of them, except India and Bhutan. The basis of those settlement was the basis of those unequal treaties between China and those imperial powers.

Although China does not agree with the spirit of those treaties and conventions, we have to balance history and reality. We agree with relevant countries to use those historical treaties as the basis to enter into new agreements to settle boundary issues. This represents China’s attitude towards good neighbourliness and peace with neighbours.

I want to point that China does not covet one inch of other country’s territory…

From a legal point of view, there is a huge difference between legal nature of boundary treaties and other kind of treaties like economic treaties and refugee treaties. As long as a a boundary treaty is signed, it is almost impossible for a country to deny it or accept interpretation, because this represents credibility of the government.

Since the alignment of the boundary is established in the 1890 convention, the next logical step is for the two parties to conduct site survey and demarcate the boundary.

There are two sections – one is delimitation, other is demarcation. Right now, we have already delimited. The next step will be demarcation.

British Raj government did exactly that. Then commissioner of the Sikkim government of British Raj, Mr (Jean Claude) White had conducted surveying activity there and also the officials of the then Bangladeshi government under the British Raj also conducted very in-depth survey… There are reference of these activities, and after the founding of Indian republic, successive governments and senior officials also openly recognised the alignment of the boundary between China and India. For example, in the letter from Prime Minister Nehru to then Premier of China, Chou en-lai, he openly recognised that the ….alignment was also recognised in the 1890 convention. Even recently, senior officials from Indian government like foreign secretary S. Jaishankar and former NSA Narayanan, he mentioned this.. you can check, the Sikkim sector is the only stable sector.

You said that India is embarrassing Bhutan, but isn’t China embarrassed by Bhutan foreign ministry’s protest?

Actually, I can’t say for sure under what circumstances the Bhutanese side released that statement. I think our Indian friends should know very well what is behind their behaviour.

We hope that the Indian government respects the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Bhutan. Bhutan is not a protectorate of India, nor is India a sovereign of Bhutan. We hope that the Indian government could see this point clearly.

I have made a very thorough study of the 2007 (Friendship) Treaty between India and Bhutan. As a third party, I don’t want to make judgement on this treaty. But from what I have seen and read in the articles, I don’t see anything that gives justification to India to send troops into another country’s territory on behalf of Bhutan.

I want to repeat that from the Bhutanese statement, in which we find some problems…we didn’t see anything that explicitly or implicitly reflects that the Bhutanese side knew beforehand that the Indian side will send troops or that the Bhutanese side invited Indian side to send troops.

Even if we take a step back and look at this (Bhutanese) statement, it, at best, represents the differences of view between China and Bhutan on the terms of alignment of their boundary. But according to the 1998 agreement between the two countries, there are many mechanisms in place to settle these differences peacefully and amicably. So what justification does India have to get involved in the difference between China and Bhutan and what cause does it have to send troops into the territory of China.

India said that it was in “close consultations” with Bhutan. Are you doubting that?

Going back to the 2007 treaty, it stipulated that India and Bhutan will have cooperation on issues relating to each other’s national interests. I don’t see anything that hints or expressly said that India should make decisions for Bhutan on military and defence affairs.

The 2007 treaty has explicitly amended the 1949 treaty and removed the articles calling for India’s guidance on military or diplomatic affairs.

The Bhutanese side said that they know nothing about the movement of Indian troops into Chinese territory.

Did the Bhutanese side say that to China?

As I said, the Bhutanese side said that they know nothing about the troops sent by Indian side across the boundary. I don’t know if there are procedures within the Indian legislature and administration that will authorise this kind of troop movement.

According to both international law and bilateral agreements between India and China, the crossing of boundary line into the territory of China under the pretext of security concern or using a third party as a basis, is illegal and troops should be withdrawn immediately. Otherwise, there will be serious consequences.

What kind of consequences are you talking about? Also, when the two national security advisors met last week, did they discuss this issue at length? China has said that no talks will be held till troops are withdrawn. If that does not happen by the time that the PM heads to Xiamen for the BRICS summit, will that mean that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping will not meet?

Let me answer the second half of the question first. Actually, the procedures and relevant arrangements of the BRICS summit are collectively, jointly made by all the five countries. The successful holding of BRICS  summit in Xiamen is in the interest of all the BRICS countries. We welcome India to become active part of the summit and actually, the Indian side has already made relevant arrangements.

The BRICS summit aside, this stand-off is a bilateral issue. They are totally different issue. They are separate.

As for whether there will be bilateral meeting or bilateral visits, it is still too early to call. It remains open for diplomatic channels to discuss. You can also ask the MEA officials about this.

I did notice the MEA statement released yesterday (August 2) which mentioned basically that the solution of the stand-off is a pre-requisite for future development of relationship. I don’t quite agree with it.

Actually, as early as 1988 when Rajiv Gandhi visited China, the two sides have already agreed that we should not let boundary issues spill over into the overall relationship…

I want to point out that there are two kinds of boundaries between India and China – settled and unsettled.

For the unsettled boundary which exists near the LAC and other sectors, there are in place many mechanisms and documents for settlement of any possible friction.

But for a defined boundary like the Sikkim sector, things are totally different. There is no room for discussion, except India withdrawing its troops.

We hope that Indian government doesn’t confuse the nature of totally different things, nor resort to stalling tactics or not have any illusions.

By crossing into the territory of China, India cannot alter the nature of the legal status of the Doklam area. By crossing boundary and staying in Chinese territory, the nature and location of the tri-junction sector cannot be altered. And the historical fact that Doklam belongs to China cannot be changed. And the result of China to exercise its legal rights in its own territory cannot be checked.

Actually what the Indian government did has not only caused controversy at home, but also finds very little sympathy in the international community. Some person said that India gets support…I don’t think so. I don’t see any kind of support of any country.

If you say that India has brought down troop levels, has the Chinese side also done the same? And if so, has it happened due to some kind of diplomatic negotiation between India and China?

Actually, I have no idea how many troops from the Chinese side are on the scene now. This belongs to military secret of China. But I want to point out that on its own territory, no matter of how many troops the Chinese government is going to deploy, it is totally within sovereignty right of China.

On the other hand, even if there is one single soldier from the Indian side staying in Doklam, that is a violation of Chinese territory and that is intolerable.

Has there been any progress on the diplomatic front in last one and half months?

I want to say that after the incident occurred, the Chinese side made representations and protests to the Indian side through diplomatic channels. After that, we left the door of a diplomatic solution open. This represents the utmost goodwill and respect from the Chinese side.

Let me clarify one thing, the ongoing diplomatic communication between China and India on the stand-off has nothing to do with existing mechanism concerning the boundary, like the special representatives’ mechanism. It is a totally separate one.

So the withdrawal of Indian troops is a basis for any meaningful dialogue. We are not trying to set any pre-condition… Just that wrongdoer must correct its deeds first. That is the condition for the basis of any solution.

Some days ago, the meeting between Yang Jiechi and National Security Adviser Doval took place. But Mr. Yang attended the meeting in a capacity of the state councillor rather than as special representative for boundary question. The Indian side also agreed to this arrangement.

Does it mean that the next round of SR talks, which was agreed to be held in India this year, will not happen till India withdraws its troops?

Well, that is a regular yearly meeting. Under normal circumstances, it will be held every year in either of the two countries. But as for this year’s meeting, it still remains to be discussed through the diplomatic channels.

Actually, during the meeting of State Councillor Yang and National Security Adviser Doval, the Chinese side stated very solemnly that the Indian side must withdraw the troops and conduct a serious investigation and recognise the 1890 treaty.

Has Bhutan ever conveyed to China that they recognise the latter’s official control over Dong Lang area?

This is a bilateral issue between China and Bhutan. It may not be a good thing for a third party to get involved. If the Indian side is really interested, it may require a briefing from Bhutanese side through the diplomatic channels.

I want to bring your attention to one fact. When the incident occurred, the Indian side first said that China had trespassed into Indian territory and then change the statement by saying that China trespassed into Doklam which does not belong to it. This only serves to prove one thing that it is India that trespassed into another country’s territory.

It seems to me that it is very weird that Indian government is always shifting its justification for sending troops. The first justification is China trespassing into Indian territory and then correcting its position and citing security concern as justification. Now it is saying that Siliguri corridor and Bhutan as pretext.

Have you set a deadline for the withdrawal of Indian troops?

We don’t want to wait for another single day, single hour. Even one hour. We demand Indian troops to withdraw immediately. I am sure you understand the meaning of ‘immediately’ in English, Hindi or Chinese. I want to point that Indian side has an approach that is undisciplined, unreasonable and without any regard to consequences.

It is very risky and harmful to China’s interests. Indian side should rethink its approach, which does not have good impact on any country in the region.

I want to draw an analogy to the situation. What happened in Doklam is like you know somebody intruding the house of a neighbour and acting very wildly and staying there. After that he is asking for reciprocal withdrawal of both sides. So what India did is to turn a titled property of another person into a disputed or frozen property. So actually the owner of the property, the guy’s neighbour, is entitled to take any actions…

I just want to clarify one thing, you asked the deadline for consequences and you also mentioned the military action…. no such military action is mentioned in relation to serious consequences from the Chinese side.

But let me add something. On August 1, in the celebration of 90th anniversary of founding of PLA, President Xi Jinping said that there are many options available for China to safeguard peace, security… but the military option is the fundamental guarantee.

Did the Royal Bhutanese troops speak to the Chinese soldiers building road on June 16 and asked them to stop their construction activity?

What happened between China and Bhutan has nothing to do with India.

Are you saying that the Doklam stand-off is out of the ambit of special representatives?

Yes, it is not discussed under the framework of the special representative mechanism. Because the case in point is totally different in nature from the stand-offs that took place before, which all took place along unsettled boundaries.

Indian MEA statement talks about the 2012 understanding of SRs on the tri-junction point alignment…Is that assertion correct that this is what was decided by the SRs? And also is there any move here for a trilateral discussion?

Let me clarify one thing. What was reached in 2012 is an internal consensus…only legal basis for that sector is 1890 convention. All the rest of the documents and legal papers are actually extensions and derivatives from that..

To demarcate the tri-junction area, it takes all three parties. The problem now is that the Indian side has totally torn up the 1890 convention and totally denied the commitments the previous governments have made under the 1890 convention. Under these circumstances, how can there be an trilateral discussion?

If the 1890 convention is so sacrosanct, then why is the McMahon Line not sacrosanct?

May I ask you a question? Why do Indian governments always cherish the McMahon Line so much while treating the 1890 convention as something unworthy, unnecessary. Actually, the nature of international treaty determines that all the successive governments are obligated to inherit and be bound by it.

The difference between McMahon Line and 1890 convention is that the 1890 convention is signed by the Chinese government and the British government, while the McMahon line was determined by the local Tibetan representative and the British colonialists. The Tibetan side only agreed to that under coercion and duress. That is illegal and it does not have the legal weight.

Besides, when the McMahon Line was discussed, actually the person McMahon did not have the mandate to talk about anything related to the boundary to India and China. Even appendix map was inserted into the treaty collection many years after that. There is consensus in the academia about this. The 1939 and the 1938 editions are totally different…

Can you share what is your understanding of definition of delimitation of boundary?

If two governments enter into a treaty or convention setting out the environment or exact position of the boundary, then we can say that the two countries have defined or delimited the boundary. Sometimes, this involves the exchange of maps.

A case in point is the 1890 convention, which has a delimited our map, alignment or boundary, and it also stipulated that the next step is to demarcate the boundary on the land to set up boundary posts.

That is also why in previous rounds of talks between the special representatives the two sides talk of having Early Harvest in Sikkim sector and talk of signing a new agreement between India and China and to totally demarcate to settle this sector of the boundary.

…it (signing a new agreement) mitigates one of Indian government’s concern – that is to erase the imprints of colonialists..

But India has said that it is for a comprehensive package on the boundary, not a piecemeal approach. India has also stated that while the status of Sikkim as an integral part of India is settled, the boundary of Sikkim is a topic of discussion of special representatives.

As I said before, the nature of the Sikkim sector is totally different from other parts of the boundary. This is settled, defined boundary. Other parts are unsettled.

Let me give you some tips of history. Actually, it was as late as 2003 when China officially recognised Sikkim as part of India through some diplomatic form, one of the pre-condition for that is that the two countries agree that the Sikkim sector of the boundary has already been finalised. Otherwise, if the the boundary dispute was not settle, how could China recognise Sikkim as part of India?

In the 1890 convention, Article 1 has two sentences. According to the Indian side, these two sentences are contradictory. If you go by the watershed principle, then the tri-junction is not at Gipmochi, according to the Indian government. Do you go by the text or the principle?

Actually, if you go to the ground, there is no contradiction between the two lines as Gipmochi is right on the watershed on the ground. Mount Gipmochi not only appears in the 1890 treaty, but the central government officials in Tibet also surveyed the Gyemochen location.

Also, some Indian and Chinese scholars also talk about the Hertslet’s commercial treaty collection of the British empire published in 1893, and also the journals and survey records of the Royal Geographical Society all indicate that Gipmochi mountain is the tri-junction point.. And even collection published by American anthropologist institute also mentioned this as the tri-junction point.

As per page 44 of the Sikkim communique of 1894 by the Bangladeshi government under the British Raj, the Gyemochen mountain is the tri-junction point of Tibet, Sikkim and Bhutan.

So the current controversy and confusion are not caused by any vague statement in the convention or the difficulties in finding point of this mountain. .. it is deliberate intention of the Indian government to deny the legal status of this mountain and try to move it six-seven kilometres to Batang La.

When you talk of Early Harvest, are you only talking of Sikkim or you want the entire middle sector to be settled?

Early Harvest is solely meant for the Sikkim sector because we have a historical convention in finding the alignment of the boundary. So we want to have this Early Harvest to make a breakthrough in the boundary settlement between China and India and to set an example for future negotiation and settlement.

There are many disputes between India and China, but one simple dispute is on the number of troops. Wouldn’t it be easier for you to put out photographs?

I will convey your suggestion.

These (troop) figures are very important, but what is more important is the nature of their presence in that part of the world. Forty or 400 or 4,000 represent a violation of another country’s territory.

I don’t exactly know the source of 350 (Indian troops) in the (Indian) media, but I don’t think by doing so it is conducive to the solution of the problem.

Do you want to say that 48 Indian troops are at the stand-off and rest are at the rear side?

Let me clarify, there are 48 Indian troops on the Chinese side of the boundary on the Doklam area. I don’t know how many Indian troops on the Indian side of the boundary. You can ask your responsible agencies.

You had earlier said that India had first said that Chinese side had moved into Indian territory. When did India say that?

It was quoted in the media. Then a very senior Indian military official corrected that… Later on, some military official cited security concern over the Siliguri corridor as a justification for the action…

Some Indian friends have recognised that this justification is untenable. Actually, in history, China has never set foot in Siliguri corridor. In contrast, British colonialists used Siliguri corridor as a springboard to invade Sikkim and then invaded Tibet. They did that twice, causing a lot of catastrophic consequences for China.

Speaking of security concerns, it is the Chinese side which has the most serious security concerns.

Let me share a Chinese proverb with you: if one person harbours ulterior motive, then they will always have suspicion and fear for other people. In India and West, there are similar sayings.

One of the deep-seated problems, I mean causes, for Doklam incident, is that some people in India are always suspicious, always look at things and approach things from cold war mentality. You win, I lose. Zero sum game from a geo-strategic perspective. They don’t have basic confidence in China-India relations. They don’t give China the due trust China deserves and they don’t have common sense understanding of China’s national defence policy or diplomacy. This is bound to lead to a misguided policy of India.

I have to say that some Indian friends, although, they live in the 21st century, but their mind is left behind in the 20th century and their way of thinking is pretty much like in the 19th century.

The transcript has been edited for clarity.