Tension at trijunction: India-China standoff over Bhutan clash

“Even though India has long had a presence along the Bhutan-China border, it has never acted in defence of its ally’s interests. The Chinese are very upset by the Indian assertion, and are seeking to push back against what they see as a line having been crossed,” a senior Indian official said.

Written by Praveen Swami , Apurva | New Delhi/beijing | Updated: June 29, 2017 4:29 pm
China, beijing, india, bhutan, bhutan clash, India China relationship, india news, china news, bhutan news, bhutan clash news Beijing upped the ante, telling New Delhi to “correct its errors” before reopening of the Nathu La Pass for Kailash Mansarovar pilgrims can be considered.

Face-offs between Chinese and Indian troops over road construction on the borders of a 269-sq km plateau in Bhutan claimed by China has sparked off what experts are describing as the worst crisis in relations between New Delhi and Beijing since troops from the two countries confronted each other at Daulat Beg Oldi in 2013, diplomatic sources told The Indian Express.

The clash on the Doklam plateau, which overlooks the strategic Chumbi Valley, Indian diplomatic sources said, involved troops serving with India’s Brigade-sized mission at Ha — a formation meant to train Bhutan’s armed forces, but which also deploys alongside the Royal Bhutan Army to patrol its frontiers against China.

“Even though India has long had a presence along the Bhutan-China border, it has never acted in defence of its ally’s interests. The Chinese are very upset by the Indian assertion, and are seeking to push back against what they see as a line having been crossed,” a senior Indian official said. (A PTI report said Army chief General Bipin Rawat will visit Sikkim Thursday to take stock of operational matters and interact with top commanders in the formation headquarters. The agency also quoted Vetsop Namgyel, Bhutan’s ambassador to India, saying his country had issued a demarche to China over the construction of a road towards its Army camp in Zomplri area of Doklam and asked Beijing to restore status quo by stopping work immediately.)

Meanwhile, Beijing upped the ante, telling New Delhi to “correct its errors” before reopening of the Nathu La Pass for Kailash Mansarovar pilgrims can be considered. China also described the construction of the border road as “legitimate”, maintaining that it was being built on Chinese territory that does not belong to India or Bhutan and no other country had the right to interfere.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang indicated that the point of friction was in the Donglong (Doklam) region, which he stressed belonged to China. “It is reported that the incidents happened at Donglong, (that it) is part of the disputed territory between China and Bhutan. The region is part of China and is indisputable. China’s construction is a legitimate activity. If India wants to raise an issue about it, I would say that it doesn’t belong to India and neither does it belong to Bhutan,” he said.

According to Lu, Indian troops crossed the boundary on the Sikkim side into Chinese territory. “This is different to what was before in India-China boundary. Bhutan is an internationally recognised country and its sovereignty is to be respected. Even if the boundary is delimited, no third party should interfere and make irresponsible comments,” he said.

Few details have emerged on the clash but two Indian officials said that Beijing has privately complained that Indian troops attacked a road-construction unit on the night of June 4-5, leading to an unarmed brawl in which two Chinese personnel sustained minor injuries.

Later, on the morning of June 5, Chinese troops retaliated in strength, destroying Indian sangars, or simple rock-and-earth bunkers, built on the Bhutan side of the de-facto border, near an Indian-guarded position identified by the code-name Laltain, or Lantern.

Neither country has officially admitted to the clash having taken place, but an opaquely worded June 26 statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Indian troops had crossed “the China-India boundary at the Sikkim section and entered the Chinese territory, obstructing Chinese border troops’ normal activities in Doklam”.

The Foreign Ministry did not explain how Indian troops had succeeded in traversing several dozen kilometres of mountain terrain required to move from Sikkim to Doklam — wording Indian diplomats said was likely intended to avoid drawing Bhutan into the controversy.

Beijing’s strategic equities in the Doklam plateau have multiplied in recent years, with the upgrading of the road from Lhasa to Yadong, which allows the 500-km journey to be made in just seven hours. The road, which passes through Bhutan’s territory, has significantly enhanced China’s military logistics in the region, which faces out on to India’s defences in the so-called Chicken’s Neck, through which all roads to the North-East must pass.

In addition, China is now in the process of extending the Beijing-Lhasa high speed railway line to Yadong, and is expected to begin test runs in less than two years. Beijing had, in 1996, offered to renounce its claims over the Pasam-Lung and Jakar-Lung valleys in northern Bhutan, 495 sq km, in return for Thimphu ceding its claims to the Doklam plateau. It was reported to have also pressured Thimphu by saying it would not agree to a border deal until Bhutan allowed it to open a diplomatic mission in that country.

Former National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon had travelled to Thimphu in 2013, amidst rumours that Bhutan was considering such an arrangement. However, following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Bhutan in 2014, its Prime Minister, Tshering Tobgay, moved to quell the rumours, saying “We don’t even have diplomatic relations. How can you open an embassy without diplomatic relations?”

The genesis of the Doklam plateau crisis date back to the 1950, as tensions between China and India began to rise. Even in 1959, a Chinese Ministry Foreign Affairs document issued on December 26 that year records, “concerning the boundary between China and Bhutan, there is only a certain discrepancy between the delineation on the maps of the two sides in the sector south of the so-called McMahon Line.”

In other words, China agreed that there were no discrepancies between its maps and those of Bhutan in the country’s west, where the Doklam plateau lies. But in 1960, China’s leadership sparked off panic in Bhutan by asserting, in a statement, that the “Bhutanese, Sikkimese and Ladakhis form a united family in Tibet. They have always been subject to Tibet and to the great motherland of China”. Then, in 1966, Tibetan nomads entered the pastures of the Doklam plateau, escorted by People’s Liberation Army guards, provoking fears of an attempt to occupy the territory.
In 1988, things came to a head when the PLA crossed into Bhutan and took control of the Chumbi Valley, below the Doklam plateau. In the years since, PLA troops have been reported to have regularly threatened Royal Bhutan Army guards on the plateau, and sometimes occupying their posts for several hours or even days.

With the standoff continuing, an opinion article in China’s state-run Global Times stated that India needed to be “taught rules” of handling boundary disputes. “China avoids making an issue of border disputes which has indulged India’s unruly provocations. This time the Indian side needs to be taught the rules. India cannot afford a showdown with China on border issues. It lags far behind China in terms of national strength and the so-called strategic support for it from the US is superficial,” the article stated.

For all the latest India News, download Indian Express App

  1. R
    Rakesh Sarvaiya
    Jul 7, 2017 at 11:35 am
    The Huns and the Mon ans invasions especially the Mon ans’ against the Song Dynasty. Technically speaking, while the Mon ans(Genghis Khan and Kublai) marched south to conquer the mainland, the Song Dynasty's territory didn't cover the Great Wall and which means the wall didn't play the role of defender for the Song people. The Imperial an’s invasion against the Republic of China during the 1930’s. During March and May, 1933, under the command of ROC government, Chinese army fought against the Imperial anese Army around the Great Wall near the east terminal. The battle ended with the victory of an, China was forced to sign a ceasefire agreement. After this event the wall became the borderline of ROC and the Manchuria (伪满洲国). But the wall never stopped an’s ambitions. The full scale invasion was started on July 7th, 1937. SO SOUTH PART OF THE CHINESE WALL AS TIBET BELONGED TO CHINA IS A QUESTION. HUNS AND MONGOLS INVADED THAT PART AND BELONGED TO INDIA AS HISTORY.
    Reply
    1. H
      Hrjaco
      Jul 4, 2017 at 5:45 pm
      I know Trump is a businessman good at blackmailing. I unconditionally think of it as our territory as it meets my interest. I personally will not be so polite as my country has done but I hope there'll no war. However, nor will I care how many people will die. My country always does the stupid things as to give some candies for peace. I don't trust newspapers because they will not always be just, all we heard are what they want us heard. Your population will soon surpass us and yet you say we are the threat, you are the evil yourself. See if you will delete this comment.
      Reply
      1. N
        no please
        Jul 4, 2017 at 5:44 pm
        I know Trump is a businessman good at blackmailing. I unconditionally think of it as our territory as it meets my interest. I personally will not be so polite as my country has done but I hope there'll no war. However, nor will I care how many people will die. My country always does the stupid things as to give some candies for peace. I don't trust newspapers because they will not always be just, all we heard are what they want us heard. Your population will soon surpass us and yet you say we are the threat, you are the evil yourself. See if you will delete this comment.
        Reply
        1. H
          Hrjaco
          Jul 4, 2017 at 5:16 pm
          I know Trump is a businessman good at blackmailing. I unconditionally think of it as our territory as it meets my interest. I personally will not be so polite as my country has done but I hope there'll no war. However, nor will I care how many people will die. My country always does the stupid things as to give some candies for peace. I don't trust newspapers because they will not always be just, all we heard are what they want us heard. Your population will soon surpass us and yet you say we are the threat, you are the evil yourself. See if you will delete this comment.
          Reply
          1. S
            Subhash Kapoor
            Jul 2, 2017 at 6:21 am
            THE real pain in CHINESE HEART IS THE CLOSENESS OF usa IN RECENT TIME .CHINA , SOMEHOW FOR SELF ASSUMED DADA OF THE REGION TEND TO CREATE CONFUSION WITH TERROR LANGUAGE . GONE ARE THE DAYS TO TOLERATE THIS UNCALLEDFOR ARROGANCE LIKE A GOONDA . AS A NATION , WE HAVE TO LEARN TO ASSERT AND TAKE A STAND ON OUR INBORN RIGHTS . ENOUGH IS ENOUGH . GIVE A KICK IN ITS FREE FLOW BUSINESS , AT UDE WILL CHANGE .
            Reply
            1. K
              Kushal Kumar
              Jun 30, 2017 at 6:00 pm
              These circumstances obtaining in different theaters across the glove suggest to something of huge worry for mankind, which was reflected in the alerts of more care and strategy in this writer's article : - Is World War III round the corner ?" - submitted on 16 May 2017 and published in Summer (June) 2017 issue of The Astrologer's Notebook , a quarterly print Newsletter from North Port , Florida. Just reproducing the text of the related prediction from the article - " The global events predicted in this article could begin to show in mild measure from about 24 June 2017 and after in the present year 2017 to grow up gradually for a final show during 19 August to 4 September with peak hype on 30 August (it could be 29 in west) in 2017". The global events which could shape up are WW3 or global economic crisis or collapse , huge natural or man made disasters.
              Reply
              1. K
                Kamal Pasha
                Jun 30, 2017 at 4:18 pm
                Modi is being blackmailed by Trump to fight China with so many arms US supplied to India.
                Reply
                1. L
                  Lucky Bindaas
                  Jun 30, 2017 at 9:47 am
                  TIME HAS COME TO TAKE REVENGE.. BHUTAN IS ONE OF OUR BEST FRIENDS, WE WILL NEVER ALLOW ANY CONSTRUCTION OF ROAD IN BHUTAN OR SIKKIM. CHINA CAN NEVER QUESTION THE INTEGRITY OF INDIA AND ITS FRIENDS.. WE WILL HIT U FROM ALL DIRECTIONS, U NAME IT.. RUSSIA, AN, VIETNAM, PHILIPPINES, AFGHANISTAN, BHUTAN, NEPAL, AUSTALIA UR DADDY US, LOOK AROUND U ARE SURROUNDED. WE WILL FREE TIBET THIS TIME.. BE ASSURED. ANY PLACE TOUCHING INDIA is either part of SIKKIM, BHUTAN or TIBET.. WE REMEMBER HISTORY VERY WELL, AND TIME HAS COME TO TEACH THEM HISTORY. THESE PORKISTANI SUPPORTING IES BEWARE.. WE WILL BRAHMO ALL UR KEY INSTALLATIONS.. THEN WILL U AGREE TO WHAT SH T U R PLAYING TO
                  Reply
                  1. Load More Comments