No, ‘top US official’ did not say that China has resumed its activities in Doklam

For a while now, certain sections of the media have been publishing a number of half-truths seeking to the undermine the Indian Government’s successful resolution of the Doklam problem from last year. The latest in this series is this highly misleading headline that has been published by outlets such as Times of India, Economic Times and Hindustan Times.

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Wrong, wrong and wrong! At least if you take the term “US official”, as I think most people will, to mean “US government official.”

On reading the actual article, it becomes clear that no such thing happened. While the article starts off with the explosive assertion that a “top US official” has said that China has resumed its activities in Doklam, no reference to an actual quote is provided until we are seven paragraphs into the article. It’s almost like the writer of the story didn’t want the reader to find out where the quote is actually from.

So, seven paragraphs into the article, we finally get the direct quote:

Although both countries back down, China has quietly resumed its activities in Doklam and neither Bhutan nor India has sought to dissuade it. China’s activities in the Himalayas remind me of its south China Sea policies. How should our failure to respond to the militarization of the South China Sea inform the international response to these Himalayan border disputes?” Wagner asked.

Who’s this Wagner? Turns out that she is no US government official, she is just a Congresswoman (equivalent to one of our MPs). This is just part of a question this Congresswoman posed to the US government.

So what is the official reply from actual US government officials to the Congresswoman’s question? Here it is:

I would assess that India is vigorously defending its northern borders and this is a subject of concern to India,” Alice G Wells, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia told lawmakers during a Congressional hearing while responding to a question on China’s increased road building activities along the Indian border.

So the US State Department is of the official view that India is “vigorously defending” its northern borders. This is very different from what the article asserted in its first sentence when it said that ” ‘China has quietly resumed its activities in the Doklam area and neither Bhutan nor India has sought to dissuade it, a top US official has said. ‘

The entire premise of the misleading headline that has appeared in all these well-known newspapers was the question from a Congresswoman and *not* the reply from the United States Government.

Just like MPs in India, questions from members of the US Congress are just that: questions. And the US has its fair share of misinformed (and sometimes hilariously so) politicians who ask all sorts of questions. To give you a taste of how much of a circus these Congressional hearings can be (and for some comic relief), here is a “question” asked in one such hearing:

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That’s Congressman Hank Johnson expressing his fear that if the US military sends too many troops to the tiny island of Guam, the island might actually “tip over and capsize.”

No, seriously. He even made a motion with his hands showing how the island might tip over. You can watch the full video here.

I challenge you not to laugh at this question. To his great credit, the military official managed to keep a straight face as he replied, “We don’t anticipate that.”

Yes, that is how downright silly these questions asked at Congressional hearings can be. To think that the Indian press would seize on a random question from a random Congresswoman and make a headline out of that. On a subject as serious as Doklam!

Imagine if every wild assertion of every Indian MP were quoted in the foreign press as “Indian official says …”

Misleading? You bet!

Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or not be an Assistant Professor at IISc Bangalore.

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