China has demanded the withdrawal of Indian troops from a scrap of disputed territory to end an escalating border row between the two Asian powers that has drawn in tiny Bhutan.
China said on Thursday it was absurd for India to use the excuse of Chinese road-building to cross over their border, and accused India of militarising its side of the frontier.
A stand-off on a plateau next to the mountainous Indian state of Sikkim, which borders China, has ratcheted up tension between the neighbouring giants, who share a 3,500km frontier, large parts of which are disputed.
According to the Chinese interpretation of events, Indian guards crossed into China's Donglang region early in June and obstructed work on a road on the plateau.
Troops from the two sides then confronted each other close to a valley controlled by China that separates India from Bhutan - a close Indian ally - and gives China access to the so-called Chicken's Neck, a thin strip of land that connects India to its remote northeastern regions.
India has said it had warned China that construction of the road near their common border would have serious security implications.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, speaking at a daily news briefing, again urged India to withdraw its personnel to the Indian side "to avoid there being an even more serious situation creating even more serious consequences".
Geng said China did not understand what reason India had for believing the road was a security risk, and that China had every right to build roads in its own territory.
Beijing claims the Indian troops are occupying its soil, but both Bhutan and India maintain the area in question is Bhutanese territory.
The current standoff began on 16 June when a column of Chinese troops accompanied by construction vehicles and road-building equipment began moving south into what Bhutan considers its territory.
At the heart of the dispute are different interpretations of where the “trijunction” – the point where the three countries’ borders meet – precisely lies. China argues its territory extends south to an area called Gamochen, while India says Chinese control ends at Batanga La, further to the north.
Around 3,000 troops from both countries are reportedly stationed near Doklam, an area said to be around 15km north of Gamochen.
China still claims a section of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh and was angered in April when the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing regards as an “anti-China separatist”, conducted a tour of the state.
Though India says its troops in Bhutan are in “non-combative mode”, the rhetoric on both sides is growing increasingly pugilistic. India’s army chief, Bipin Rawat, has said that India is ready to fight a “two and half front war” – referring to Pakistan, China and against the country’s various internal insurgencies.
India was especially sensitive to China’s encroachment near its Bhutanese border because it brought Chinese troops uncomfortably close to a section of Indian territory called the “chicken’s neck”, a thin corridor which, if broached, could cut Delhi off from its northeastern states.