Doklam, Zhoglam is a narrow plateau lying in the tri-junction region of Bhutan, China and India. Photograph: (Zee News Network)
China has bulldozed an old bunker of the Indian Army located at the tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan in Sikkim after India refused to accede to its request, official sources said on Wednesday.
Army Chief General Bipin Rawat will visit Sikkim tomorrow amid the stand-off between the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the Indian Army.
The face-off between Indian and Chinese troops has been taking place in Sikkim's Doka La area for the past ten days.
China is believed to have not taken kindly to India building many new bunkers and upgrading older ones along the border in Sikkim in the recent past to augment its defences against the PLA, sources told PTI.
Beijing is also upset with New Delhi over the recent visit of the Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh, the sources said, adding that China was also trying to escalate tension in the forward areas, including in Sikkim, despite borders being clearly demarcated.
On June 26, the PLA transgressed into the area in Sikkim, and jostled with Indian army personnel guarding the Sino-India border, besides destroying two bunkers.
The PLA is constructing a road from the strategically located Chumbi Valley to Dolam, close to the Sikkim border and considered a disputed area between China and Bhutan.
On Wednesday, China justified construction of the road in the Sikkim sector as "legitimate", alleging that India had no right to interfere since the road was being built in Donglang (Doklam), calling it an "indisputable" part of Chinese territory. Bhutan claims Donglang region as its own.
The country also hardened its stance on the issue of opening the Nathu La pass for Indian pilgrims to visit the Kailash Mansarovar, stating that the resumption of the pilgrims' pass "requires necessary atmosphere and conditions".
On June 23, the first batch of Kailash Mansarovar pilgrims comprising about 50 people returned from Nathu La border post as the stand-off between India and China continued and China denied permission to undertake the onward journey.
China claimed India was objecting to its efforts to build the road on behalf of Bhutan and that neither of the two countries had the right to interfere.
Chinese think tanks also speculated that India stopped the road construction on behalf of Bhutan.
Donglang is located at the strategically important narrow tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan.
Of the 3,488-km-long India-China border from Jammu and Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh, a 220-km section falls in Sikkim.
"Donglang is part of China's territory. This is indisputable. The Donglang area belonged to China since ancient times and it doesn't belong to Bhutan," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told the press in Beijing.
"India wants to raise an issue with this part. I should say it doesn't belong to Bhutan, nor it belongs to India. So we have complete legal basis for this. Chinese construction of the road project is legitimate and normal action on its territory. No other country has the right to interfere," he said while replying to a question.
The foreign ministry spokesperson said the China-Bhutan boundary was not delineated and since Bhutan was a universally recognised sovereign country, India should not interfere in the matter.
"Hope countries can respect the sovereignty of the country. The China-Bhutan boundary is not delineated, no third party should interfere in this matter and make irresponsible remarks or actions," he said.
"If any third party, out of hidden agenda, interferes it is disrespect of the sovereignty of Bhutan. We don't want to see this as Bhutan is a country entitled to sovereignty by the international community," Lu Kang said.
China asserted that the Sikkim part of the India-China boundary was not in dispute and therefore India has no right to object over the road construction.
On the issue of the Nathu La pass, Lu Kang said China had opened the Nathu La pass in the Sikkim sector in 2015 for Indian pilgrims to enter Tibet as the boundary there had been delineated with the consent of both the countries.
"For a long time in the interest of India-China relations, China provided great conveniences to the Indian pilgrims. Based on the consensus between the two country leaders, and on the fact that the Sikkim sectors boundary is delineated and recognised by two countries, the Chinese side in 2015 opened the Nathu La pass for Indian pilgrims," he said.
For two years it worked well and in fact this year also the Chinese authorities had prepared for the reception of Indian pilgrims and informed the Indian side about it.
Now the suspension of the same is an emergency response to the situation there. I want to stress that the resumption of pilgrims pass requires necessary atmosphere and conditions. So the liability of the same totally lies on Indian side and when it will be reopened depends
on the when or whether the Indian side will correct its errors," he said.
Asked about whether there was any progress in the talks between India and Chinese officials over the issue, Lu said, "the Indian troops crossed the boundary at the Sikkim side to the Chinese territory."
"This is different to what was before in India-China boundary. China has made solemn representations against the same. India should respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China," he added.
On Tuesday, China lodged a protest with India over the alleged "crossing of boundary" by its troops in Sikkim and demanded their immediate withdrawal.
It had also linked future visits of pilgrims to Kailash Mansarovar to India "withdrawing the troops" from the area.