The Indian Army’s confrontation with a Chinese road construction party escorted by PLA at Doka La began about two weeks ago. New Delhi stated its deep concern at China’s attempt to alter the status quo, which could have serious security implications for India. Doka La’s proximity to the Silliguri corridor — a narrow ‘chicken’s neck’ that connects northeast India with the rest of the country is a matter of deep concern for India. This inching movement of the Chinese Forces towards the Silliguri corridor constitutes a nightmare for Indian defence .
The actual incursion by the Chinese took place on Bhutanese territory, near the ‘tri-junction’ of the borders of India, Bhutan and China. It was the Royal Bhutan Army which first intercepted a Chinese construction party on June 16 in the Doka La area of the Doklam Plateau in Sikkim. It quickly drew in Indian troops, which then crossed into Bhutan in coordination with the RGOB (Royal Government of Bhutan). Indian personnel in area Doka La, approached the Chinese construction party and urged them to desist further construction. On refusal, using some robust methods, Indian troops physically prevented the Chinese from building activities .
Thimphu has played an active role in negotiations, although it does not have diplomatic relations with Beijing. Consequently, Bhutan’s diplomacy was conducted through its embassy in New Delhi. On June 20, the Bhutanese ambassador lodged a protest with the Chinese embassy in New Delhi.
On Tuesday, June 27, Beijing had issued a statement claiming the Doklam plateau, based on the 1890 ‘Convention Between Great Britain and China Relating to Sikkim and Tibet’. Bhutan responded on Thursday, June 29, pointing out that Chinese road building directly violates the 1988 and 1998 agreements between the two countries to maintain peace and tranquillity on their border, pending a final solution.
Beijing is particularly furious at India’s acting on Bhutan’s behalf. Its foreign ministry spokesperson declared: ‘The China-Bhutan boundary is not delineated, no third party should interfere in this matter and make irresponsible remarks or actions. If any third party, out of hidden agenda, interferes it is disrespect of the sovereignty of Bhutan. We don’t want to see this, as Bhutan is a country entitled to sovereignty by the international community.’
Where as the coordination between New Delhi and Thimphu has deepened further in keeping with their tradition of maintaining close consultation on matters of mutual interest, RGOB and the Government of India have been in continuous contact through the unfolding of these developments.
Now nearly ten days later, with the Indian Army in full control of the area where the incident took place. New Delhi has further signalled a face-saver for Beijing by stating that India is committed to working with China to find peaceful resolution of all issues in the border areas through dialogue. With this New Delhi has attempted to defuse the crisis.
‘The matter has been under discussion between India and China at the diplomatic level in the Foreign Ministries since then, both in New Delhi and Beijing. It was also the subject of a Border Personnel Meeting at Nathu La on 20 June. New Delhi’s statement also pointed out that India and China had in 2012 reached agreement that the tri-junction boundary points between India, China and third countries will be finalised in consultation with the concerned countries. Thus any attempt to unilaterally determine tri-junction points is in violation of this understanding.
Both India and Bhutan have urged China not to unilaterally change the status quo of the well-settled Sikkim-Tibet boundary.
However Chinese seem to be totally rattled by the unexpected swift Indian response. The shrill Chinese defence ministry has now aggressively reminded the Indian Army chief of the 1962 military defeat of 1962 .
While the crisis plays out, it has also prevented about 100 Indian pilgrims to Kailash Mansarover, from crossing through Nathu La into Tibet. Their entry was blocked by China after the crisis broke out. In 2015, China had accepted India’s request to allow pilgrims through Nathu La — a relatively easier route than the other route through Uttarakhand. Though the yatra through Uttarakhand is continuing smoothly.