China said that Doklam – a stretch of 269 sq km sandwiched between India, Bhutan and China – is part of its territory and that India should have learnt its lessons from last year’s military stand-off in the remote region near Sikkim state.
The Chinese reaction came days after India’s ambassador in Beijing, Gautam Bambawale, blamed it for the face-off in an interview with South China Morning Post. Bambawale said the 73-day standoff occurred because Beijing tried to alter the status quo in the disputed area.
Bambawale also said political communication between India and China had been restored after the crisis, but contacts between their militaries “has not fully resumed”.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, during a news briefing on March 26, said “Donglong (Doklam) belongs to China because we have historical conventions” and “China’s activities there are within our sovereign rights”.
“Last year thanks to our concerted efforts, our diplomatic efforts, and wisdom, we properly resolved this [Doklam] issue. We hope the Indian side could learn some lessons from this,” she said.
Troops from India and China were locked in a standoff at Doklam from June 16 to August 28 last year. Tensions between the Asian giants arose after Bhutan objected to an attempt by Chinese troops to build a road on the Doklam plateau.
Doklam is claimed by Bhutan but is under the control of China.
The exchange comes as India and China look to stabilise ties. India’s new foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale visited Beijing in February, and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is expected to travel to China in April. Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj is also scheduled to attend a meeting there later this year.
Last week, Sitharaman said India is “alert” and ready to deal with any “unforeseen situation” in Doklam.
The two nuclear-armed countries, who fought a brief but bitter border war in 1962, have been engaged in a dispute for decades not only over Doklam, but also Aksai Chin, another Himalayan area.
The Doklam plateau is important for India as it is near a narrow strip of land that connects the mainland to its remote northeastern states, but China has pushed back on India’s concern, saying this is a matter concerning Bhutan.
Bhutan does not have diplomatic ties with China and coordinates its relations with Beijing through New Delhi.
For India, the road, if built, would have moved Chinese troops closer to India’s strategically important Siliguri Corridor, known as the Chicken’s Neck, the narrow stretch of land that separates India’s north-east from the rest of the country.