The Solution is for Both India and China to Withdraw Troops: Sushma Swaraj

In its weekly press briefing the MEA was reluctant to answer whether Bhutan “formally” asked for India’s intervention before Indian soldiers crossed the border.

New Delhi: External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj told parliament on Thursday that China’s intention was to “unilaterally” change the status of the Bhutan-China-India tri-junction point on the boundary, adding that the solution for both New Delhi and Beijing would be to withdraw their troops from where they are currently ranged against each other at Doklam.

Swaraj is now the highest ranking Indian government leader to speak publicly on the stand off between Indian and Chinese soldiers in Bhutan, which began in mid-June.

Speaking during question hour in the Rajya Sabha, Swaraj said that the Chinese army had conducted some activities near the region from time to time, mainly to repair roads. “But this time, they came with bulldozers and excavators and their intent was to reach the tri-junction, where Batang-la is the main point. They came down where they were unilaterally changing the status-quo of the tri-junction and that’s why we  got involved,” she said.

The minister said that India had “no problem” till the matter was between China and Bhutan. “…but when it came to the tri-junction point, our interests became involved”.

In an answer to a query on what China’s demands are, she said Beijing wants Indian troops to be withdrawn first.

“You ask what do we want? We want that if there’s a discussion, both sides should withdraw troops” said Swaraj.

So far, India, in its statement of June 30, had said that both the sides had reached an agreement in 2012 that the tri-junction points between India, China and third countries will be finalised in consultation with all the countries. This was a reference to the understanding between the special representatives of China and India in their meeting of January 2012.

In her remarks in the parliament, Swaraj confirmed that this understanding had been written down. “As per paragraph 13 in the agreement, it was written that regarding tri-junction points, India, China and third countries (here, Bhutan) will decide together on the matter together”.

Stating that India’s position on the Doklam standoff is reasonable, she said that most countries were supporting New Delhi, especially as Bhutan had also protested.

During a weekly press briefing on Thursday, India was reluctant to answer the question whether Bhutan had “formally” asked for India’s intervention before Indian troops crossed the Sikkim border, suggesting, implicitly, that India may have actually moved in before receiving a request.

Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Gopal Baglay said:

I would go back to what we had said on June 30. We had given the description on what had happened on June 16. We had said that in keeping with tradition of maintaining close consultation on matters of mutual interest, the royal government of Bhutan and the government of India have been in close contact on these unfolding developments, that is what happened on June 16 and thereafter. And then we had said that in coordination with Bhutanese government, Indian personnel present in general area of Doko-la….

So it has been in the tradition of close consultation and in coordination with RGOB. I cannot get into saying whether the ball came first and the batsman went forward or the batsman had taken a stand before the ball was bowled. Those matters, it is not for me… and is not even in my knowledge what came first.

To another question on China’s aggressive statement, he referred to a couplet by the medieval poet, Kabir, which essentially meant only the core message should be given attention, while fluff should be disregarded.

Meanwhile, both the Chinese foreign ministry and the Indian external affairs ministry reiterated that diplomatic channels continue to be open between the two countries.

India’s national security advisor Ajit Doval will be visiting China next week to attend the BRICS NSA meet on July 27-28. “If there are any other engagements, we will keep you informed,” added Baglay.