Following reports of Chinese troop build-up on Doklam plateau, India on Friday made it clear that there were “no new developments” at the “face-off site and its vicinity” since the disengagement on August 28.
New Delhi’s clarification comes on a day Beijing defended the presence of its troops in Doklam area, saying its soldiers are patrolling the region to exercise Beijing’s sovereignty, according to a PTI report from Beijing.“The Donglang (Doklam) area has always belonged to China and has been under the effective jurisdiction of China,” the Chinese foreign ministry told PTI in response to questions about a report that the People’s Liberation Army is beefing up troops in the area.
Sources told The Indian Express in New Delhi that after the “mutual and sequential withdrawal from the site where the border standoff took place”, there has been no movement of troops at the site. While questions were raised on New Delhi’s use of the term “vicinity”, a source said, “The military understands the meaning of the word ‘vicinity’…and they are monitoring the movements.”A top source, who was involved in the negotiations to resolve the border standoff, said, “There can be build-up anywhere else, away from the site, but that does not change the status quo. What was agreed by both sides, when they decided to disengage, has not been violated so far.”
On Friday evening, Ministry of External Affairs’ (MEA) spokesperson Raveesh Kumar stated, “We have seen recent reports on Doklam. There are no new developments at the face-off site and its vicinity since the August 28 disengagement. The status quo prevails in this area. Any suggestion to the contrary is incorrect.”More than five weeks after India and China stepped back from a standoff at Doklam, on the Sikkim border, Indian soldiers remain on high alert, with around 1,000 Chinese troops still present on the plateau, a few hundred metres from the site of face-off.The presence of Chinese soldiers in Chumbi Valley, where the plateau is located, was also acknowledged by Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa during his annual press conference on Thursday.
Sources told The Indian Express on Friday that there has been “no alarm bells” so far, although South Block was keeping a close watch on the situation.“We are not downplaying their presence, but till the time there is no change in the status quo…there is no reason to be alarmed at the presence of troops on the Chinese side,” the source said. “We have enough troops on alert, and as back-up…but there is no breach of the diplomatic understanding of August 28 so far.”
In Beijing, the Chinese foreign ministry said in a written response to PTI, “There is no dispute. The Chinese border forces have been patrolling in the area of Donglang (Doklam), exercising their sovereign rights and safeguarding territorial sovereignty according to the historical boundary.” About Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar’s visit to Bhutan, the first such visit after the 73-day Doklam standoff, the Chinese foreign ministry said, “Although China and Bhutan have not yet established diplomatic relations, the two countries have maintained traditional friendly relations.”It said China has always respected Bhutan’s sovereignty and independence. “China hopes that other countries also respect Bhutan’s sovereignty and independence and develop normal bilateral relations with Bhutan, at the same time also hopes it can help enhance the mutual trust between regional countries, safeguarding regional peace and stability,” it said.
On August 28, when the standoff ended, the MEA had issued two statements, the second of which, in the evening, made clear that both sides had withdrawn their troops. Sources had then told The Indian Express that troop withdrawal had been “mutual” and “simultaneous” but “sequential”. The source refused to elaborate which side began the withdrawal. “The two sides went back to their positions almost simultaneously…following standard operating procedures of withdrawal,” the source said.
(With PTI inputs)