The international border at Nathu La Pass, in Sikkim. (Photo courtesy: hindustantimes)
(TibetanReview.net, Jun30, 2017) – It has been revealed that the ongoing border standoff between China and India, which began in early June, is over a piece of territory which has been under the jurisdiction of neither of the two countries but Bhutan. This piece of territory, a 269-square-km area in the Chumbi valley, sits between Sikkim and Bhutan and China has been laying claim to it as a part of Tibet under its occupation rule, much like its claim over the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.
Sources confirmed that the standoff with China is in Bhutan’s territory and in an area controlled by Thimphu but coveted by Beijing, reported tribuneindia.com Jun 28. The area in question is called Donglang region by China, Doklam Plateau by Bhutan and Doka La by India. The plateau extends to the India-Bhutan-China tri-junction at the southern tip of Chumbi valley.
Bhutan and China have held 24 rounds of talks over it since 1984 but failed to resolve it. China was reported to have also exerted pressure on Thimphu by saying it would not agree to a border deal until it allowed the opening of a Chinese diplomatic mission in the country.
Meanwhile, Bhutan’s ambassador to New Delhi, Vetsop Namgyel, said Jun 28 that his government 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 the status quo by stopping the work immediately.
“Doklam is a disputed territory and Bhutan has a written agreement with China that pending the final resolution of the boundary issue, peace and tranquillity should be maintained in the area,” India’s PTI news agency Jun 28 quoted Namgyel as saying.
In 1960, China’s leadership sparked 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, noted an Indian Express newspaper report Jun 29.
It continued that 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.
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India intervened when China began building the road in the territory not only because of its friendship with and security commitment to Bhutan but also because of the Chinese design’s adverse strategic implications for it. Lying east of Sikkim, it has a commanding view of the Chumbi valley (largely held by China) and overlooks the narrow Siliguri Corridor that links the North-East to the rest of India, the report said.
So, by gaining control of Donglang, China gets the ability to essentially cut off India’s access to its North-eastern states in case of a conflict.
China has accused India of having a hidden agenda of “meddling” in Bhutan’s internal affairs. Its Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said there was no dispute about Donglong “which belonged to China, and not to India or Bhutan”. Lu denounced what he called third-party attempts to complicate the situation, noting that some foreign reports had been hyping-up Doklam, the area where the standoff took place, as a disputed region between China and Bhutan.
“Doklam has been part of China since ancient times…. China’s construction of road in Doklam is an act of sovereignty on its own territory,” China’s communist party mouthpiece People’s Daily Online(en.people.cn) Jun 29 quoted Lu as saying. He has said any third-party interference is a disrespectful gesture to Bhutan’s sovereignty.
China earlier demanded that India immediately withdraw its border troops that had crossed the boundary and conduct a thorough investigation into the matter. Doklam is located several dozen kilometres of mountain terrain away from Sikkim.
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China also issued a series of warnings and threats against India. Its state-run Global Timesnewspaper said Jun 28 that India needed to be taught the rules of the game in handing border disputes. “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 paper said.
China’s foreign ministry also said Jun 28 that re-opening of the Nathu-la pass which allows officially-organized Indian pilgrims to enter Tibet depended on whether the Indian side could correct its mistakes in time. The pilgrims, destine for Mt Kailash and Lake Manasarovar in western Tibet, were to leave the border post of Nathu-la in Sikkim’s border on Jun 23 but were prevented by the Chinese side. Some 300 pilgrims are to travel by this route this year, with the initial batch consisting of 47 devotees.
Lu has said China had clearly informed India that suspending the arrangement was “an emergency measure to the changed situation in the Sikkim section of the China-India boundary caused by Indian border troops’ illegal entry”. He has said the pilgrimage route was unlikely to be reopened if the Indian side could not correct its mistake in a timely manner.
The Chinese side has also reacted to the Indian obstruction to its road building effort by bulldozing two Indian bunkers.