The Government of India told an all-party meeting of MPs last Friday that Doklam stand-off will be solved through dialogue. The government had invited 19 MPs and briefed them on the tension prevailing on Doklam tri-junction near Sikkim. It is the border of India, Bhutan and China. The tension prevailing on the issue is defused to some extent. An informal chat between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Hamburg on the sidelines of the G20 meet has also helped in easing tension. But, the issue is not simple and resolution of it is much more difficult.
India is insisting that the pre 16 June condition should prevail at Doklam. India recognises the area as Doka La. China claims it is a part of its Donglang region. Bhutan and China are already having some dialogue over the resolution of the area. China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) suddenly began construction of a road in the area and it alarmed India, as it is a sensitive area and has a strategic importance and overlooks Chumbi valley in Tibet.
The stand-off between Indian Army and China’s PLA is now more than a month old. China is clandestinely encroaching into Bhutanese territory since the mid 1960s. After 1962 India-China war, Doklam plateau that abuts the tri-junction became a bone of contention. China sees the Doklam tri-junction from the geostrategic angle. It is equally important to India for strategic reasons. On the night of June 8, PLA entered the narrow plateau and destroyed two bunkers. It was believed that the motive was to alter the status quo. On June 16, PLA’s road construction corps entered Doklam with road rollers, bulldozers, etc, and started constructing road towards Doka La. Sensing the seriousness, Indian Army also moved and it led to a stand-off between two major countries. Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) objected to China’s move and reminded them of bilateral agreement of 1988 and 1999 saying not to alter status quo in disputed areas and that disputes should be resolved through the existing mechanism. As PLA did not budge, Bhutan sought India’s help. Indian Army intervened and it led to a stand-off. This is the first time that Indian Army has confronted PLA in a third country. Occasionally, the confrontation between two countries takes place on the 4,057 km long Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China.
China accused India of interfering in the matter of China and Bhutan. Chinese newspapers (state owned) carried many articles criticising India. In the background of Doklam issue, a Chinese think tank said a ‘third country’s army’ could enter Kashmir at Pakistan’s request, using the ‘same logic’ the Indian Army used to stop the Chinese military from constructing a road in the Doklam area. China is expert in imposing their interpretation of history. It also calls Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as South Tibet.
For some time, relations between India and China are tense. It began with Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh in April. India has also objected to China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) between Gwadar in Pakistan and Kasghar in the restive Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China. India’s objection is mainly because it passes through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). In May, India skipped the Belt and Road summit held in Beijing. China has stopped India from entering Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and opposed India’s move in UN to ban terrorist Azhar Masood. In such a tense scenario, the stand-off took place. Arun Jaitley, Defence Minister, hit out at China for asking the Indian Army to learn from ‘historical lessons’ saying the India of 2017 is different from what it was in 1962. The Chinese foreign ministry also responded to Jaitley’s statement by saying China too is different.
Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar made a presentation before MPs using satellite maps. He said apart from diplomacy, ‘other channels’ are also being used to end the stand-off and India is insisting that the pre-June 16 status be maintained at Doklam. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval also briefed MPs.
The best option is that the boundaries must be respected and status quo should be maintained in the disputed areas. In Doklam and other disputed areas, neither India nor China should have military presence. The process of dialogue must go on. China and Bhutan had many rounds of talks over Doklam. It must go on as there is no alternative to dialogue.
Ajit Doval will be travelling to China to attend Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa (BRICS) NSAs meeting on July 27-28. He will also have a meeting on resolving border disputes with China.