Context

  • Sustained standoff between India and China at the tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan at the Doklam tri-junction.

Present Scenario

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to meet on the sidelines in the G20 summit in Germany this week.
  • Both sides had earlier positioned an additional 3000 troops since the initial face-off at the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction, on which all three countries have claims.
  • There is however, no further troop addition since the initial push, from either side

Historical perspective of the issue

  • China issued a map to back its assertion on `trespassing’ by Indian forces at the disputed Doklam area of the Sikkim sector, which China claims as part of its territory
  • The map released by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, highlighted a blue arrow with markings in Chinese points that alleged Indian troops barred the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from building a strategic road. The map shows Doklam as part of Chinese territory.
  • China blamed Indian troops for trespassing to what they consider their territory and barred them from constructing a road
  • China removed an old bunker of the Indian Army located at the tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan in Sikkim by using a bulldozer after the Indian side refused to accede to its request to dismantle it.
  • The Chinese however claim that they were constructing the road within their territory, which led to jostling between the two sides and demolition of the bunker.
  • The crisis came in to the public domain once China sent Indian pilgrims on their way to Kailash Mansarovar in Tibet back from the Nathu-la border post last week.
  • The face-off has now continued for over twelve days with two flag meetings at the border failing to resolve the issue and defuse tension and both sides building up their troop strength in the area.
  • As a result of this stand-off, China has denied passage to Indian pilgrims going for the MansarovarYatra through Nathu La pass.
  • The incident was also significant as it takes place in the Sikkim sector, where the border is settled. The earlier stand-offs between soldiers from the two sides have usually taken place in the western and eastern sectors, where the status of the boundary remains unresolved.
  • The delineation of China’s boundary with India at Sikkim was based on a 127-year-old treaty signed between the Qing empire and Great Britain, the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1890.
  • China assets that Donglang – which he called Doklam as part of the Chinese territory
  • China accuses India of impinging on Bhutan’s sovereignty by attempting to fight its battles in the apparent reference to Indian protective security relationship with Bhutan.

Read about Trilateral junction between China, India and Bhutan

Read about Doklam Plateau

Read about Kailash Manasarovar Yatra (KMY)

India- China border Issue

  • Sovereignty over two large and various smaller separated pieces of territory have been contested between China and India.
  • The westernmost, Aksai Chin, is claimed by India as part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and region of Ladakh but is controlled and administered as part of the Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang.
  • The other large disputed territory, the easternmost, lies south of the McMahon Line. It was formerly referred to as the North East Frontier Agency, and is now called Arunachal Pradesh.
  • The McMahon Line was part of the 1914 Shimla Convention between British India and Tibet, an agreement rejected by China.

What has happened over the years?

  • In 1960, based on an agreement between Nehru and Zhou Enlai, officials from India and China held discussions in order to settle the boundary dispute.
  • China and India disagreed on the major watershed that defined the boundary in the western sector. The 1962 Sino-Indian War was fought in both the areas aforementioned.
  • An agreement to resolve the dispute was concluded in 1996, including “confidence building measures” and a mutually agreed Line of Actual Control.
  • In 2006, the Chinese ambassador to India claimed that all of Arunachal Pradesh is Chinese territory amidst a military build-up. At the time, both countries claimed incursions as much as a kilometre at the northern tip of Sikkim.
  • In 2009, India announced it would deploy additional military forces along the border.
  • In 2014, India proposed China should acknowledge “One India” policy to resolve the border dispute.

Read about India China 1962 war

Specifics of Border dispute between China and Bhutan

  • China shares a contiguous border of 470 km with Bhutan to the north and its territorial disputes with Bhutan have also been a source of potential conflict.
  • Since the 1980s, the two governments have conducted regular talks on border and security issues aimed at reducing tensions, particularly through Delhi.
  • Along with the occupation of Tibet, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army occupied eight western Tibetan enclaves under Bhutanese administration.
  • A Chinese map published in 1961 showed China claiming territories in Bhutan, Nepal and the kingdom of Sikkim (now a state of India).
  • Incursions by Chinese soldiers and Tibetan herdsmen also provoked tensions in Bhutan.
  • Imposing a cross-border trade embargo and closing the border, Bhutan established extensive military ties with India.
  • During the 1962 Sino-Indian War, Bhutanese authorities permitted Indian troop movements through Bhutanese territory. However, India’s defeat in the war raised concerns about India’s ability to defend Bhutan.
  • Consequently, while building its ties with India, Bhutan officially established a policy of neutrality.
  • According to official statements by the King of Bhutan to the National Assembly, there are four disputed areas between Bhutan and China.
  • Starting from Doklam in the west, the border goes along the ridges from Gamochen to Batangla, Sinchela, and down to the AmoChhu.
  • The disputed area in Doklam covers 89 square kilometres (km2) and the disputed areas in Sinchulumpa and Gieu cover about 180 km.

Implication

  • If the Chinese gain control of Doklam/Doka La, they gain the ability to essentially cut off India’s access to the North-eastern states in case of a conflict.
  • If you refer to the map given in the beginning of this article, you will find the proximity of the “Area of tension” to the “Siliguri Corridor” which is the gateway to the North-Eastern states of India.
  • Chinese construction of road in this region is critical as it will serve twin objective –
  • Pressurizing Bhutan to allow Beijing to establish an embassy there,
  • Destabilizing the Sikkim border which has been the least troublesome compared to Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh region.

Analysis

  • The road being constructed falls in Bhutanese territory claimed by China.
  • Bhutan is considered a friend, an important one considering it is the first country to be visited by PM Modi after he assumed office.
  • China, on the other hand, does not even have an embassy in the small but strategically important kingdom.
  • Thus, by obstructing this road construction, India is standing up for Bhutan and depicting a new assertiveness that has been missing in its foreign policy for a long time.
  • The drastic move denying Indian pilgrims entry through Nathu La pass to continue to Mt.Kailash is shocking as this route was specifically opened by President Xi on the behest of PM Modi in 2015.
  • Military stand-offs have never before spilled out to affect Sino-Indo bilateral and cultural relations. It definitely sends out a strong signal. The recent visit of Dalai Lama to his hometown in Arunachal Pradesh this year coupled with India’s continued negation of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor could also have added to China’s ire at India.
  • However, China’s growing assertiveness, expansionism and arm-twisting in this region needs to be checked. Moreover, construction of this road does not bode well for either Bhutan or India and is being jointly opposed by both – thus, giving our relationship a new fillip.
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