India said on Thursday it is ready to hold talks with China if both sides pull back their forces to end a standoff along a disputed territory high in the Himalayan mountains.
Tensions flared last month in the southernmost part of Tibet in an area also claimed by Indian ally Bhutan, after Chinese teams began building a road onto the Doklam Plateau.
Bhutan, a tiny Himalayan kingdom, sought 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.
Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said a 2012 agreement bound China and India to settle the boundary issue with Bhutan. Her response came as China demanded that Indian forces leave the area to avoid an escalation.
India and China fought a bloody war in 1962.
Speaking in Parliament, Swaraj said Chinese forces recently came with bulldozers and excavators with the intent of building infrastructure that would change the status quo. In the past, the Chinese have built temporary roads in the area.
“If China unilaterally changes the status quo of the tri-junction, it becomes a matter of security concern for India,” she said, referring to the area where the three countries meet.
Swaraj said China has been demanding that India withdraw its forces from the area. “If China wants to discuss the matter, both sides should withdraw their forces and talk,” she said.
She also said that China was becoming “aggressive” with Bhutan following its protest of the Chinese move.
In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang reiterated his country’s stand that the withdrawal of Indian border guards to Indian territory is a “prerequisite and foundation for any meaningful talks between China and India.”
Lu said at a daily briefing Thursday that Indian border guards “illegally trespassed (across) the boundary into Chinese territory.”
The crisis is expected to be discussed when Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval visits Beijing on July 27-28 for a security forum under the BRICS group of large developing nations that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
The nuclear-armed neighbors share a 3,500-kilometer border, much of it contested.