India-China Sikkim border standoff is a deadlock between Indian and Chinese soldiers over the construction of a road by the latter in Dokalam area near the Bhutan trijunction. The standoff has been continuing for over three weeks, adding tension to the Sino-Indian relation. Dokalam is the Bhutanese name of the region which is recognised by India as Doka La. China claims it as a part of its Donglang region. At present, China and Bhutan are engaged in talks over the resolution of the area. However, Bhutan has no diplomatic ties with China and it is supported militarily and diplomatically by India.
Doka La is also India’s last military post on the trijunction of its boundary with Bhutan and China. The standoff started after a Chinese army’s construction party came to build a road in the Dokalam region, which overlooks the strategic Chumbi Valley, last month. On June 29, IE reported diplomatic sources as saying the clash on the Doklam plateau involved “troops serving India’s Brigade-sized mission at Ha – a formation meant to train Bhutan’s armed forces, but which also deploys alongside the Royal Bhutan Army to patrol its frontiers against China.”
Two Indian officials had also earlier told IE that China had “privately complained” about Indian troops attacking a Chinese road construction team on June 4-5, leading to an unarmed brawl. China had also destroyed Indian bunkers on the Bhutan side of the border in retaliation on June 5.
China had first claimed Doklam as its own in 1950s years before its war with India in 1962. Since 1988, PLA troops have been cutting past Bhutan’s claim line Sinche La ridge via a network of dirt tracks leading to Chele La post, Bhutan’s permanent position on the Zompelri ridge, which leads towards India’s Doka La post in the west.
When India-China Sikkim border standoff started
Indian government sources have told IE that the present standoff started on June 16 when PLA moved a large earthmoving unit on to the Doklam plateau and started constructing a road towards Doka La. From Zompelri ridge, the Royal Bhutan Army tried to intervene but they were pushed back. The Bhutanese Army approached the Indian troops for help. The latter then moved down the ridge and obstructed the construction work, leading to the standoff.
Bhutan’s ambassador to India Vestop Namgyel had told PTI last month that his country had issued a demarche to China over the construction of a road towards its Army camp in Zomplri area of Doklam, asking China to restore status quo by stopping the construction work.
War of words over border standoff
The standoff has led to a diplomatic war of words between India and China, even as both sides have reinforced their positions. China has accused India of wrongfully interfering in China-Bhutan boundary talks and said that the “ball is in India’s court” to end the standoff.
China’s Ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui told PTI on Monday, “The first priority is that the Indian troops unconditionally pull back to the Indian side of the boundary. That is the precondition for any meaningful dialogue between China and India,” he said.
Luo also alleged that for the first time Indian military has crossed “mutually recognised boundary” and trespassed into China’s territory. Earlier, India’s Ministry of External Affairs had said New Delhi was deeply concerned over recent Chinese actions.
IE reported on June 1 that despite the standoff, China’s People’s Liberation Army Continue to deploy construction equipment to drive a dirt track along the Doklam plateau.
What is India’s stand
India has officially accepted that its troops blocked PLA road construction inside Doklam as it would “represent a significant change of status quo with serious security implications for India.”
“In coordination with the Bhutanese government, Indian personnel, who were present at general area Doka La, approached the Chinese construction party and urged them to desist from changing the status quo… these efforts continue,” an Indian government statement said.
India says that both New Delhi and Beijing had agreed in 2012 that trijunction points between India, China and third countries would be finalised in consultation with all the countries concerned. China’s attempt to build a road in the region, hence, is a unilateral action in violation of the 2012 understanding.