For past two and half month, both India and China were involved in a bilateral dispute. Though all the major details were covered by the mainstream media, we bring you a short article talking about the reasons that led to the standoff.
The trilateral border dispute between Bhutan, China and India ended on the 73rd day after the two major rivals India and China agreed to disengage and withdraw their troops from the disputed land.
To get a better knowledge of the whole dispute let us first understand the significance of Doklam plateau for the countries involved.
Doklam, also known as Donglang in China lies between Tibet’s Chumbi Valley to the north, Bhutan’s Ha Valley to the east and India’s Sikkim state to the west. As per the Bhutanese map, the area has been depicted to be part of the country since 1961. However, the history takes us long back to the British period.
During the 18th Century, British Empire was extending its trade route into Tibet in order to sell goods like tobacco and tea produced by Indian Colonies. The only convenient connecting point was through Sikkim which was an independent kingdom in that period. As a result in 1888, British invaded the Northern region of Sikkim. Two years later in 1890, British and China met in Calcutta and signed Convention of Calcutta which basically was to limit the power of Tibet over Sikkim and avoid any future conflict.
Article 1 of the treaty states that border must begin from the starting point of Mt. Gipmochi and it also states that the boundary must follow the watershed. However Mt. Gipmochi is not the starting point of the river and this point was not clarified in the treaty.
In 1959, the then Prime Minister of India Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru wrote a letter to his Chinese counterpart, Zhou Enlai. In the letter, he agreed that there is no border dispute over the boundary between Sikkim and Tibet. With regards to the border between Bhutan and Tibet, he stated that China claims a major part of Bhutan in its map which had to be rectified.
Bhutan and China both made an agreement in 1988 and 1998 stating that both countries will maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas until the final settlement of their boundary dispute. Bhutan blames China for breaking the peace agreement by constructing the road in the disputed region.
Now, coming to the reason behind the involvement of India over the border issue of Doklam region which is not actually a part of India. The first and foremost reason is the strong relationship between India and Bhutan continuing since 1949. India and Bhutan signed a treaty of Friendship in 1949 as per which India was to “guide” Bhutan on foreign and defense policies. Later in 2007, the Friendship treaty was signed again between the two nations with some amendments made to the previous one which says that India should respect the sensitivities of Bhutan regarding its sovereignty. “The treaty commits both countries to cooperate closely with each other on issues relating to their national interests, and not allow the use of their territories for activities harmful to the national security and interest of the other” external affairs ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna said. India has always played a major role in developing the defense of Bhutan. Starting from the formation of the Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) to the training of RBA officers at National Defence Academy in Pune and Indian Military Academy in Dehradun.
The second and more crucial reason from India’s perspective is to save the Siliguri Corridor also known as chicken’s neck which connects North East India with rest of the country and is the only connectivity. If China acquires Doklam area then it will get a geographical gain over India as it can easily block or destroy the corridor and isolate the north eastern region.
The Doklam incident was instigated when China entered the disputed area while building a road in its border region. This alarmed Bhutan but its army was overpowered by People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China. India is an ally of Bhutan was asked to intervene. Indian army, on the other hand, made a louder noise than PLA was expecting as Siliguri corridor is a major concern for India. The standoff between two powerful Asian giants lasted for more than 2 months with China threatening India of serious consequences and kept reminding of 1962 Indo-China war. To which India gave a stern reply by stating that it is ready for two and a half front war. Despite a number of bilateral solutions and diplomatic talks, China was not interested in disengaging its troops.
However, on 28th August 2017, an official statement was released by India’s Ministry of External of Affairs that both countries have agreed to withdraw their troops from the area. India withdrew its troops in afternoon followed by PLA withdrawing its troop as well as road construction machinery. No other detail was revealed of the diplomatic talks which led to this bilateral solution.
It’s been less than a week of the peace talk and China has already issued statements that India should get accustomed with such situations as China will continue building more roads and also it will continue patrolling the disputed land. Even though construction has stopped and tension has eased in Doklam plateau region, it’s not certain that PLA will not try to enter the disputed area again and continue the construction of the road. Currently, Indian troops are in a position of advantage to monitor the disputed area. The stand is clear if any kind of development is made in the disputed land by People’s Liberation Army than a similar deadlock situation is possible all over again.
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