“We will preserve our sovereign territory and security interests at any cost,” Senior Col. Wu Qian, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman, told reporters Monday, adding that the People’s Liberation Army will “further intensify targeted operations and trainings” around the Doklam area.
Beijing has accused India of sending troops into Bhutan, while the Bhutanese government says China has constructed a road inside its territory in “direct violation” of treaty obligations.
Last week, China conducted live-fire drills on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau close to the site of the current standoff, something Wu vowed will continue until India withdraws from the region.
“The 90-year history of the People’s Liberation Army has proven that, when it comes to safeguarding our sovereignty and territorial integrity, our capabilities keep strengthening while our determination remains firm,” he said. “It is easier to move a mountain than to shake the PLA.”
Indian national security adviser Ajit Doval will arrive in Beijing Thursday, the fourth visit by an Indian government representative since the beginning of the dispute last month.
The current Doklam dispute has rattled many observers, harkening back to the 1962 bloody border war between India and China — the causes of which were never solved, leading to multiple territorial flare-ups in the years since.
Shashank Joshi, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said the situation is reminiscent of a similar standoff in 1986, which involved 200,000 troops on each side but ended diplomatically.
“This is still a far smaller crisis relative to that crisis, but in terms of length, there is every possibility that this situation will effectively stretch into the winter,” he said. “The noteworthy thing about the Chinese statement is not that it escalates the situation, but that it avoids any softening of the crisis. The probability of a quick resolution coming out of the meeting of the two national security advisers this week seems slim.”
“I’m not sure how this situation de-escalates, not just because of the media hype on both sides, but also because China may not have an interest in de-escalating,” Yvonne Chiu, assistant professor at the Department of Politics at Hong Kong University (HKU), told CNN last week.
This was followed by a formal complaint by Bhutan that China was building on its territory. India and Bhutan have maintained historically strong relations and closely coordinate their foreign policy. India’s military is also involved in training Bhutan’s armed forces.
Relations between Delhi and Beijing have soured in recent years, amid increasing Chinese investment in India’s arch-rival Pakistan, and stepped-up Chinese naval activity in the Indian Ocean.
The dispute with India comes amid increasing Chinese military activity outside of Beijing’s usual sphere of influence.
“Beijing has begun dispatching its navy on increasingly wide-ranging forays, providing its personnel with critical experience in blue-water operations,” according to a report by geopolitical intelligence firm Stratfor.
This month, Beijing dispatched ships with troops to formally open a military base in Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa, which will service its Indian Ocean fleet.
The Liaoning, China’s only active aircraft carrier, has also been dispatched to the open Pacific. Chinese state media said this was a sign the Liaoning’s combat capability has been enhanced and its areas of operation expanded, and could soon include the Eastern Pacific, including off the US West Coast.
Speaking Monday, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Wu said the country was “actively expanding military exchanges.”
“We have also participated in a range of international peacekeeping, blue-water escort and humanitarian relief operations — which has reflected our positive image and great responsibilities as the military of a major power,” he said.
“In non-territorial waters, Chinese military ships and planes enjoy freedom of navigation and overflight just as all other countries.”
CNN’s Anish Gawande contributed reporting.