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How China is intruding both into Bhutan and India by constructing a road

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Saswat Panigrahi
Political writer, policy observer.

China’s attempts to construct a road on Doklam plateau have led to the current stand-off between Indian Army and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China. China recently accused India of aggression.

The 269-sq km Doklam plateau, which belongs to Bhutan, is strategically located at the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction. The plateau adjourns to the Chumbi Valley, which is shaped like a dagger jutting into India, separating Sikkim from Bhutan. Chumbi Valley faces Chicken’s Neck, a strategically-vulnerable and thin strip of land in Siliguri.

Clearly, this is part of Beijing’s plans to gain strategic advantage in the region. Doklam plateau is Bhutanese territory. But China, which has named it as Donglang, wants to lay claims over this territory.

A desperate China has termed the construction of road in Doklam plateau as “legitimate” saying the road is being built in the “Chinese territory”.

“Chinese construction of the road project is legitimate and normal action on its territory. It doesn’t belong to Bhutan, nor does it belong to India,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said.

But does Doklam plateau really belong to China? We can find the answer in the pages of history. On 26 December, 1959, a Chinese Foreign document had admitted that the Doklam plateau belongs to Bhutan.  But in 1988, China’s People’s Liberation Army had crossed into Bhutan and illegally took control over the Chumbi Valley, below the Doklam plateau. Since then, China has been regularly making incursions in the Doklam plateau by threatening Bhutan and claiming it as its own territory.

Meanwhile, Bhutan has issued a demarche to China and asked Beijing to restore status quo by stopping the road construction activities in Doklam plateau immediately.

India has strategic and defence interests in the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction. This is not to dispute that India will lose its strategic advantage in the region once the road is constructed in Doklam plateau. Through this road, China wants to enhance its military logistics in the region. It won’t be wrong to suggest China’s latest move aims at constant provocation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Sikkim.

China’s road construction in Doklam plateau has led to a standoff between Indian and Chinese troops. Since Indian Army and China’s People’s Liberation Army had confronted each other at Daulat Beg Oldi in 2013, this is yet another major confrontation between the troops of both the countries.

China, however, accused Indian troops of “provocation” and alleged that Indian Army had “entered into Chinese territory” and is preventing its “road construction activity” in Doklam plateau.

However, there is no official statement from Indian side so far. If that is true, Indian Army has absolutely done the needful.

Following the standoff, China has shut down the Nathu La pass entry for Indian pilgrims travelling to Kailash Mansarovar in a retaliatory move and warned India that future visits of its pilgrims would depend on whether it “corrects its errors”.

Amid the ongoing standoff, an editorial in China’s state-run Global Times said India needs to be “taught rules” of handling boundary disputes. “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,” it said.

On Thursday, the Chinese Army conducted trials of a battle tank in in the plains of Tibet, near the Indian border. It now remains to be seen if the stand-off is resolved amicably or gets escalated.

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Saswat Panigrahi
Political writer, policy observer.

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