Indian Ambassador in Beijing Gautam Bambawale on Saturday said the standoff between the two countries in 2017 was because China “changed the status quo in the Doklam area”. The 74-day standoff between the two countries ended in August 2017.
“Ours was a reaction to the change in the status quo by the Chinese military,” Bambawale told the South China Morning Post. An important lesson from the standoff was that “if anyone changes the status quo, it will lead to a situation like what happened in Doklam”, he added.
Though communication at the political level had resumed between the two countries, the armies are not yet speaking at the “headquarters-level”, he said, adding that there should be better communication “down the line”.
China and India need to be “frank and candid” to reduce tensions, he said. “If the Chinese military are going to build a road, then they must tell us ‘we are going to build a road’. If we do not agree to it, then we can reply that, ‘look, you’re changing the status quo. Please don’t do it. This is a very very sensitive area’.”
The Indian envoy denied recent reports about the Chinese military building infrastructure in the Doklam area. “The Chinese may be putting more military barracks for soldiers, but that is well behind the sensitive area.”
He added: “Those are the things you [China] are free to do and we are also free to do, because you are doing it inside your territory and we are doing it inside ours.” Bambawale’s comments came during his visit to Hong Kong, where India signed a Double-Taxation Avoidance Agreement. He also confirmed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Beijing in June.
Bambawale reiterated India’s concerns about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a part of China’s multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, but added that South Asian countries were free to have ties with any other country, including China. “India has its own relationships with all these countries. These are very strong relationships and India is also doing a lot of projects in all these countries,” he said.