(TibetanReview.net, Jul25, 2017) – It was in response to an alarm raised by Bhutan that India moved to try to evict a Chinese army road construction team from Doklam, a site in a Bhutanese plateau where troops from the two countries have been in a standoff since Jun 6, reported the AP Jul 24. It said the Chinese soldiers had arrived with bulldozers and excavators, and were building a high-mountain road near India’s border towards a Bhutanese army camp in an area the two nuclear-armed Asian giants had disputed for decades. Both India and Bhutan have called the Chinese action direct violation of agreements with each of them.
It said India responded to the call by sending troops to evict the Chinese.
China says Doklam, which it calls Donglang, is a disputed site between it and Bhutan and India had no standing on the issue. However, New Delhi contends that it had reached an agreement with Beijing in 2012 that the status of the Doklam area — which falls between Chinese ruled Tibet and India on a Bhutanese plateau — would be finalized only through joint consultations involving all parties.
The land in dispute spans 269 square kilometers (104 square miles) on a sparsely populated plateau in western Bhutan, which has no diplomatic ties with China and coordinates its relations with Beijing through New Delhi, which takes care of its security requirements as well.
In a demarche it issued on Jun 29, Bhutan said the road China was building would run from the town of Doko la to the Bhutanese army camp at Zompelri. And Bhutan’s foreign ministry called it a “direct violation” of agreements reached in 1988 and 1998 to maintain peace and refrain from unilateral action in the area pending a final border settlement.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said last week that India’s border guards, in responding to Bhutan’s call for help, had “illegally trespassed the boundary into Chinese territory” when they confronted the Chinese army construction team.
For India, it is not just a matter of coming to Bhutan’s aid. It also sees securing the Doklam Plateau essential to maintaining its control over a land corridor, described as chicken’s neck, that connects its mainland with its eight remote northeastern states. It says the Chinese road project threatens its access to the corridor.
China, however, questions why India should even have a say in a matter that concerns only Beijing and Bhutan.
The report cited Indian analysts as saying China appeared to be trying to pre-empt settlement negotiations by establishing a Chinese presence in Doklam.
“China has been trying for a long time to gain a tactical advantage in this sector,” having already established dominance along the Indian borders at Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh, security expert Uday Bhakar, a retired Indian navy officer, was quoted as saying.
China has also expressed frustration with India’s refusal to sign onto a massive effort to build railways, ports and roads reaching from Asia to Europe and the Middle East under its so-called Belt and Road Initiative. The project includes a China-Pakistan economic development programme aimed at absorbing as much as $46 billion in investment, most of it from Chinese banks. India objects to this programme as it passes through Pakistan occupied Kashmir claimed by it.