• Associate Sponsor

Doklam faceoff between India, China over but Bhutan’s talks run into a wall

In a statement released Tuesday, its first in weeks, Bhutan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it welcomed “the disengagement by the two sides at the face-off site in the Doklam area”. “We hope this contributes to the maintenance of peace and tranquility and the status quo along the borders of Bhutan, China and India in keeping with the existing agreements between the respective countries,” it said.

Written by Praveen Swami | Thimphu | Updated: August 30, 2017 10:58 am
bhutan, doklam standoff, india china doklam, sikkim standoff, india china talks, bhutan india china talks, bhutan china india, bhutan on doklam issue, indian express Doklam standoff: In the perception of many in Bhutan’s government, the conditions for future crisis remain in place despite Monday’s disengagement deal. (Express Photo by Partha Paul)

Talks between Bhutan and China on their border dispute — the root cause of the military standoff on the Doklam plateau which ended Monday with the disengagement of Indian Army and People’s Liberation Army troops — are unlikely to take place as scheduled this year despite diplomats having defused the weeks-long crisis, sources familiar with the issue have told The Indian Express.

Beijing, sources said, has not called for this year’s round of negotiations, normally held between June and August, in a move that experts in Bhutan say indicates it is reluctant to publicly concede that its claims of sovereignty over the Doklam plateau have been disputed for several years.

Failure to resume negotiations leaves open the prospect that fresh crisis could erupt over disputed regions along China’s Chumbi valley, a narrow corridor separating western Bhutan from India’s Sikkim, where the PLA has cut roads towards Royal Bhutan Army outposts in Doklam, Sinchulumpa, Charithang and Dramana.

In a statement released Tuesday, its first in weeks, Bhutan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it welcomed “the disengagement by the two sides at the face-off site in the Doklam area”. “We hope this contributes to the maintenance of peace and tranquility and the status quo along the borders of Bhutan, China and India in keeping with the existing agreements between the respective countries,” it said.

The statement made no reference to China’s decision to terminate road-construction activity designed to upgrade the track leading from Doklam towards India’s forward positions at Doka La, and on to the Royal Bhutan Army’s positions at Zompelri Ridge.

Military sources, however, confirmed they had seen earth-moving equipment being removed prior to the disengagement agreement Monday, making clear no further efforts would be immediately made to build the all-weather road that sparked off the crisis. “From the situation as it is on the ground,” said a military officer familiar with the ground situation, “we are back to where we were before the Royal Bhutan Army’s soldiers at Zompelri first tried to persuade the PLA to stop the road-construction operation in June.”

In the perception of many in Bhutan’s government, the conditions for future crisis remain in place despite Monday’s disengagement deal. “This crisis was never about a road,” a political figure close to Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said. “Troops seeking to use the Doklam road in a war would have been asking to be massacred by Indian positions higher up the ridge, and it would have disintegrated each winter anyway.” “The reality,” the source said, “is that this crisis emerged from India’s decision to confront Chinese coercive action on the ground. For obvious reasons, this means the situation remains fluid until an actual border agreement is arrived at.”

Residents in the border town of Damthang told The Indian Express that many herders had been told by PLA patrols to turn back this summer from high-altitude grazing grounds they had used for generations — a move that may have been designed to put pressure on Bhutan. “They told herders the pastures belong to China, not Bhutan, and to go back,” said Tshering Paljor from the village of Hatay.

Ever since 2010, a joint Bhutan-China technical commission has been engaged in verifying the border on-ground, in an effort to develop shared 1:100,000 scale maps that would allow the two sides to agree on common landmarks and features to facilitate technical discussions on their claim lines, diplomatic sources said. There has, however, been little forward movement on the substantial disagreements.

From China’s point of view, the most critical of these are over western enclaves, which overlook its highway linking the town of Yatung with Lhasa — a key logistical route for the PLA, which is at a tactical disadvantage in the sector. Beijing has also said it plans to build a railway along the route.

Loosely demarcated through much of history, efforts to formally delineate the Bhutan-China date back to 1980, when Thimphu decided to open border negotiations with Beijing. In 1990, Beijing offered Thimphu a swap, saying it would concede its claims to the Pasamlung and Jakarlung valleys in the country’s north, if Bhutan would hand over the four enclaves along the Chumbi valley.

Even though Bhutan is believed to have been initially inclined to take the deal, it soon changed course: in November, 1996, Thimphu’s negotiators returned to the table with claims to the western enclaves that were more expansive than those that they had made earlier. Furious, Beijing alleged that India was behind this about-turn.

Though both countries signed a 1998 agreement committing them to maintain the status quo, the actual border talks rapidly got bogged down around Bhutan’s new claims in Doklam, and broke down completely from 2006 to 2009.
In these years, Beijing ramped up the pressure, building at least six roads cutting deep into the western enclaves — among them, one cutting through the Torsa Nature Reserve towards the Zompelri ridge, the closest point to the Bhutan-China-India junction where the Royal Bhutan Army is stationed.

Though the PLA had long carried out patrols up to the Zompelri ridge, asserting its claims to the territory, the construction of the road marked a physical assertion of its case — and a violation of the 1998 agreement committing both sides to respect the status quo.

For all the latest India News, download Indian Express App

  1. J
    James
    Aug 30, 2017 at 8:45 pm
    What a great move by China, India withdraw its Military forces while China its Bulldozers. I agree this never about A road, but territory recognition and legitimacy, which India just provided to the Chinese. let's see how long it take for this to sink in.
    (0)(0)
    Reply
    1. K
      KUMAR
      Aug 30, 2017 at 11:38 am
      According to official figures, the riots ended with 1,044 dead, 223 missing, and 2,500 injured. Of the dead, 790 were Muslim and 254 Hindu.[13] The Concerned Citizens Tribunal Report,[14] estimated that as many as 1,926 may have been killed.[1] Other sources estimated death tolls in excess of 2,000.[15] Many brutal killings and rapes were reported on as well as widespread looting and destruction of property. The Chief Minister of Gujarat at that time, Narendra Modi, was accused of initiating and condoning the violence, as were police and government officials who allegedly directed the rioters and gave lists of Muslim-owned properties to them.
      (0)(0)
      Reply
      1. R
        Ripudaman Singh
        Aug 30, 2017 at 9:53 pm
        Which menatal ins ution have you escaped from, Kumar?
        (0)(0)
        Reply
      2. R
        Robin2343
        Aug 30, 2017 at 11:34 am
        China thinks they can do whatever they want , why India is not threatening to China that if they did not go back or do something stupid it will affect CPEC which cost 50 billion dollars. Bhutan on other hand need to raise its voice to the UN to let authorities know that China is doing something which is not acceptable. Thank God it's Nodis government if it would be Congress thn they might have sold Dokhlam to China for 1000 crores for their next election. China 's economy is dependent upon the routes which pass through Indian Ocean so why not India pressurising China that it can affect things. China is laying a safe game and their foreign minister is so stupid that she keeps barking like a dog which she cooked last night. Pakistan on other hand got no future except in next gen years it will be governed by Taliban. USA, Japan,India have to do patrolling from west-southwest of India to South China Sea to have dominance over that zone. Regards
        (0)(0)
        Reply
        1. K
          Kamal Pasha
          Aug 30, 2017 at 11:28 am
          The trouble maker of South Asia Modi has put Bhutan into problems. Bhuttan should not have put her trust in Feku. Modi the murderer of more than 3000 Indiasn Muslims of Gujrat is loosing his grip over India day by day.
          (0)(0)
          Reply
          1. R
            Ripudaman Singh
            Aug 30, 2017 at 9:54 pm
            Kamal in his Fools Paradise!!!
            (0)(0)
            Reply
            1. J
              jay komerath
              Aug 30, 2017 at 10:58 pm
              Modi will be there for ever,and he has Muslim support.Anti Indian Muslims are in pakistan
              (0)(0)
          2. K
            KUMAR
            Aug 30, 2017 at 11:26 am
            February 28th, a massacre was carried out by Modi, surrounded by thousands of Hindus and Muslims in Ahmedabad and other cities in gujarat. The mob gathered to rape women, to pour kerosene into them and to the throats of the children, and then to throw matches at them
            (0)(0)
            Reply
            1. Load More Comments