China recently traded barbs with India over movements of their troops along the international border near Bhutan. Over the weekend, New Delhi countered Beijing’s claim that Indian troops “trespassed the Chinese border to obstruct construction of a road”, saying that the Chinese troops had entered into Doklam area and violated the international border. The Doklam Plateau – northern part of the tri-junction of Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet – is not just a disputed area, but has huge strategic significance for both the Asian giants.
In a statement, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said on Friday that New Delhi informed the Chinese government that such construction (in Doklam) would represent significant change of status quo with serious security implications. According to the statement, India, which has taken various steps to resolve the boundary issue with China, is seriously concerned about the recent Chinese actions. “On June 16, a People’s Liberation Army construction party entered 269sqkm Doklam plateau in Bhutan to construct a road. It’s our understanding that the Bhutan Army patrol tried to dissuade them. India wants to solve border issues through dialogue,” added the statement. The Indian ministry also asked Beijing to maintain restraint and the status quo.
Even Bhutan slammed China for directly violating an agreement between the two countries by constructing a road inside its territory. In a strongly worded statement, the tiny Himalayan nation asked its northern neighbour to stop constructing the road from Dokola in Doklam area towards the Bhutan Army camp at Zompelri.
Statements issued by India and Bhutan on the border standoff over the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction have prompted Beijing to launch diplomatic attack against New Delhi. Making an oblique reference to the 1962 Sino-Indian war, Beijing said that the Indian Army should learn from “historical lessons” and “withdraw troops from the Bhutanese side of the boundary”. The top Chinese political leadership made it clear that Beijing would never tolerate “trespassing” on the Chinese border.
Senior spokesperson of People’s Liberation Army Colonel Wu Qian strongly criticised Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat for his remark that the “Army is fully prepared for a two-and-a-half-front war (a reference to China, Pakistan and internal security).” Wu said: “Such rhetoric is extremely irresponsible. We hope the particular person in the Indian Army could learn from historical lessons and stop clamouring for war.”
Soon after Colonel Wu criticised the Indian Army chief, Defence Minister of India Arun Jaitley called a press conference to clear India’s stand on the issue. He said: “India of 2017 is different from India of 1962. Those were different situations.” Jaitley also said Bhutan rightly pointed out that China was trying to usurp its land and India was not entering into any other country’s land. According to the minister, it is unfortunate that China is trying to encroach on Bhutan’s land. “Statements issued by Bhutan make it clear that this is the land of Bhutan. It is located near India’s land. There is an arrangement between India and Bhutan for giving protection in the border region,” he told the press.
Even Indian foreign policy and defence experts have urged China to not show military might only for encroaching on Bhutan’s land, saying that Beijing should realise Bhutan is as important to India as North Korea is to China. They argue that what India is doing in the Doklam plateau is exactly the same as what China is doing in the Korean peninsula. And the most important question is: why is China in such a hurry to construct roads in a disputed territory? The territory’s status is yet to be determined by China and Bhutan through peaceful boundary negotiations.
Even, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang raised an important question: why are Indian troops fighting for Bhutan in “Bhutanese territory” to drive back the encroaching Chinese soldiers? And the Indian experts’ answer is very simple. They say that Chinese intrusions into the territory under Bhutan’s control have ominous signals to India from the strategic point of view. For the South Asian country, the Chumbi Valley has enormous strategic importance, as it is the only linkage between Indian mainland and the north-eastern Indian provinces. So, it is quite natural for India to be concerned about Chinese incursions into the Bhutanese territory the same way China is worried over the deployment of THAAD anti-ballistic missile defence system in South Korea by the US.
Meanwhile, both India and China continue to pump in reinforcements to the remote border region. After visiting the area last week, the Indian Army chief said that he would deploy around 3,000 soldiers there to deal with Chinese incursions.
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