China India Standoff

Nepali human rights activists protest tensions between Indian and Chinese outside the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu July 11, 2017. China warned July 5 that the withdrawal of Indian troops from disputed territory was a precondition for peace and has reportedly staged military exercises in the region. (Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images)

BEIJING — China renewed a call for India to immediately withdraw its troops from disputed territory high in the Himalayan mountains, following a report that Chinese forces recently held live firing drills in the region.

Foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said that Indian forces had to leave the area to avoid an “escalation of the situation.”

“We have stated many times that we hope the Indian side will get a clear understanding of the situation (and) immediately take measures to withdraw the troops that illegally crossed the border back to the Indian side of the border,” Lu said at a regular news briefing July 18.

Beijing and New Delhi have engaged in more than a month of saber-rattling as officials from both sides talk of a potential clash even bloodier than their 1962 war that left thousands dead.

Lu’s comments came after Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported late last week that an army brigade equipped with rocket launchers, heavy machine guns and mortars recently practiced a simulated live-firing assault on an enemy position in Tibet. The drills also involved tracking and targeting enemy aircraft, the report said.

The current standoff is in the southernmost part of Tibet in an area also claimed by Indian ally Bhutan, although the report did not say exactly when or where the drills took place.

The slow-motion crisis is expected to be discussed when Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval visits Beijing July 27-28 to take part in a security forum under the BRICS group of large developing nations that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

However, with nationalist sentiments among the public running high in both nations, neither side is expected to back down before the bitter Himalayan winter arrives in a few months, according to experts.

China insists Indian troops withdraw before talks can take place to settle what has become the longest protracted standoff in recent years between nuclear-armed neighbors who share a 3,500-kilometer (2,174-mile) border, much of it contested.

The most recent dispute flared in June after Chinese teams began building a road onto the Doklam, or Donglang in Chinese, Plateau that is claimed by both China and Bhutan, which cooperates closely with India on security matters.

Although China and Bhutan have been negotiating the precise border for decades without serious incident, the tiny Himalayan kingdom turned this time to help from New Delhi, which sent troops across the border from the northeastern state of Sikkim.

China retaliated by closing a nearby mountain pass that Indian pilgrims use to reach Mount Kailash, a sacred Hindu and Buddhist site in Tibet. China’s foreign ministry has also presented to reporters historical documents that it says prove China’s claims to the plateau.

Although the Doklam Plateau is not part of Indian territory, New Delhi has been particularly sensitive to Chinese building activity in a region with strategic significance.

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