Smarting under India’s snub to its One Belt-One Road project, the Dalai Lama’s recent visit to Arunachal Pradesh and deepening cooperation between India and the US, China is trying to assert itself in Bhutan very close to Sikkim. China is attempting to build a motorable road in an area claimed by Bhutan.
Chinese attempt has resulted in a face-off between the forces of the two countries. India and China have beefed up deployment of forces at the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction as part of the ongoing stand-off between the armies of the three countries.
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Incidentally, China tried to escalate tensions by referring to the 1962 war and asking India to take lessons. China put forth the condition of withdrawal of Indian troops from Doklam – the actual site of conflict – for a meaningful dialogue over the matter.
However, the Chinese foreign office seems to have missed the 1967 military conflict – the last that the two countries had. Accounts of the time show how the Indian Army gave the Chinese a bloody nose. Close to 400 Chinese troops were killed while Indian Army lost its 80 soldiers.
China was forced to back off three kilometres from Cho La Pass located north of Nathu La. Responding to China’s threatening gestures, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley almost dismissively said, “India of 2017 is different from 1962.”
MEA EXPOSES CHINESE LIES
After China made frivolous accusations against India saying that it was the ‘third party’ in China-Bhutan border dispute and it had entered another country to alter borders, the Ministry of External Affairs has systematically destroyed the narrative spread by Beijing.
“The facts of the matter are,” read the MEA statement, “On 16 June, a PLA (People’s Liberation Army of China) construction party entered the Doklam area and attempted to construct a road. It is our understanding that a Royal Bhutan Army patrol attempted to dissuade them from this unilateral activity. The Ambassador of the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGOB) has publicly stated that it lodged a protest with the Chinese Government through their Embassy in New Delhi on June 20.”
Even Defence Minister Arun Jaitley said that after having been pushed back by the Chinese soldiers, the Bhutan Army sought help from its Indian counterpart. India is in a security arrangement with Bhutan to provide protection to its borders. The Indian Army entered the area to honour the bilateral arrangement.
The MEA further stated that on Thursday “the Foreign Ministry of Bhutan has also issued a statement underlining that the construction of the road inside Bhutanese territory is a direct violation of the 1988 and 1998 agreements between Bhutan and China and affects the process of demarcating the boundary between these two countries. They have urged a return to the status quo as before 16 June 2017.”
THE SITE OF CONTENTION
The stand-off seems to be a strategic Chinese ploy to take advantage of the confusion about the location and extent of Doko La plateau. Different maps show it differently. This displaces the tri-junction between Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet about 15 km on either side.
Doko La plateau is strategically significant. It overlooks the Chumbi valley which has two important passes – Nathu La and Jelep La – to connect India and China. The plateau is contested by both Bhutan and China. Doko La plateau makes survey of Indian territory up to the Siliguri corridor easy. This also brings the security of Sikkim under threat.
However, there is no real issue with regard to boundary along Sikkim as it is based on the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1890. This 127-year-old treaty between the British and the Qing rulers continues to hold valid for India and China. The boundaries were demarcated in 1895. As late as June 27, the Chinese foreign office stood by the 122-year-old boundary delineation.
It is at this Doko La plateau that the Chinese army started piling up road building materials to which Bhutan objected and sought India’s help after being scared off by PLA troops.
WHAT IS INDIA’S STAND?
India has repeatedly said that it is in favour of resolving disputes through dialogues. “In coordination with the RGOB, Indian personnel, who were present at general area Doka La, approached the Chinese construction party and urged them to desist from changing the status quo. These efforts continue,” said MEA.
At a diplomatic level, India has told China that “such construction would represent a significant change of status quo with serious security implications for India.”
India and China reached an agreement in 2012 that the tri-junction boundary points (at Doko La) between India, China and third countries would be settled in consultation with the concerned parties.
SECURITY OF SIKKIM
With Indian and Chinese troops having taken positions for “eyeball to eyeball confrontation”, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat visited Sikkim to take stock of the ground situation. He was briefed by the military commanders at the ground level.
When General Rawat was back in Delhi on Friday, a high-level meeting was held to review the security situation in Sikkim sector. The meeting was attended by General Rawat, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar among others.
A detailed analysis of the ground situation of the sensitive areas along the international border was done at the meeting.
India and China share a total boundary of 3,488 km. A 220-km section of the India-China border falls in Sikkim, where attempts to defuse tension are underway.