Reports of the meeting attracted strong criticism from BJP leaders. And as the controversy grew, Rahul Gandhi’s office for hours neither confirmed nor denied the meeting.
NEW DELHI: After Rahul Gandhi’s party dithered over acknowledging his meeting with the Chinese ambassador amid a massive border standoff between the two countries, the 47-year-old politician tweeted that he has the right to meet the envoy – “it is my job to be informed on critical issues” – and said if the government believes he is in the wrong, it should explain why top ministers were “availing Chinese hospitality while the border issue is on.”
Till about 8.30 am, the Chinese embassy’s website referred to Mr Gandhi conferring with the envoy on Saturday, July 8, while highlighting that they discussed “current Sino-India relations”. (Scroll down for screenshot). The Chinese embassy later deleted its post.
As the controversy acquired scale, the Congress waffled on Twitter, refusing to confirm or deny the meeting.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala tweeted that India still has diplomatic relations with China. Ramya, who heads the party’s social media cell, tweeted, “Even if Congress VP had met the Chinese Ambassador I don’t see it as an issue.”
The confirmation finally came at about 4 pm. “Be it the Chinese ambassador (Luo Zhaohui) or Bhutanese ambassador (Vetsop Namgyel) or former national security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon, Rahul Gandhi met all three of them. Nobody should try to sensationalise such normal courtesy calls,” Mr Surjewala said.
Mr Gandhi then tweeted his view which also a headline-making photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chinese President Xi Jingping in a swing in Gujarat in 2014, when the armies of the two countries were locked in a similar stand-off. “And for the record I am not the guy sitting on the swing while a thousand Chinese troops had physically entered India,” Mr Gandhi tweeted.
Last week, Mr Gandhi attacked PM Modi for not commenting publicly on the confrontation with China, reported as the longest since the 1962 war fought over Arunachal Pradesh with punishing results for India.
India has ignored China’s warning of “serious consequences” if it does not withdraw soldiers from what Beijing claims as its territory across the border in Sikkim. China claims that early in June, Indian soldiers entered the region it calls Donglang, and stopped Chinese troops from constructing a road there.
China says the land belongs to it as part of an accord it signed with the British in 1890.
But India and the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan say the area where the land is being built belongs to Bhutan, which did not sign the treaty, and counts on India for diplomatic and military support.
Last week, in uncharacteristically blunt remarks, the Chinese ambassador Luo Zhaohui said in an interview that there was “no scope for compromise” and that for any dialogue to commence, India must pull back its soldiers. Delhi has ignored that warning, as also several threats in Chinese state-run media of India exposing itself to a “humiliating” defeat like in the 1962 war. Defence Minister Arun Jaitley retorted that the India of 2017 “is different from that of 1962”.
PM Modi met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Germany last week a day after Beijing announced “the atmosphere was not right” for a bilateral meeting. The leaders, however, had an informal discussion on “a range of topics”, said the Foreign Ministry, refusing to comment on whether the Sikkim confrontation was part of the talks.
The area under dispute is vital to India’s security because it is located at the tri-junction of India, Tibet and Bhutan, and the road being constructed gives China access to a strip called “Chicken’s Neck”, which links the rest of India to its seven north-eastern states.