The two Asian countries which share 3488 km long border have been at loggerheads for the past two months over a disputed region called Doklam in Bhutan. It is named as Doka La in India and Dong lang in China. Doklam is a narrow plateau lying at the tri-junction of India, Bhutan, and China. The region which overlooks the strategically important Chumbi valley 125 km far from ‘Siliguri corridor’ is claimed by both Bhutan and China.
The standoff started with road construction by the Chinese in the disputed region and its obstruction by the Indian army duly supported by Bhutan. Despite Bhutan’s demarche to stop the construction in their territory China continues irascible.
China and Bhutan have discussed the Doklam border issue in over 24 rounds of negotiations beginning from 1984. China had offered a package deal under which Chinese agreed to renounce their claim over 495 sq km disputed land in the Psamlung and Jakarlung valleys in exchange for a smaller tract of disputed land measuring 269 km, the Doklam plateau . The offer made repeatedly at every round indicates the significance of Doklam in China’s strategic calculus. Bhutan has relayed the offer to India where the latter successfully convinced Bhutan to defer the negotiations. Bhutan is analogous to an egg between two rocks. The recent blockade of Nathu La route to Indian pilgrims on the holy Mansarovar visit is another such event culminating into a serious verbal combat.
Apparently and officially, the dispute should be between China and Bhutan. However, when closely examined, India holds major stakes. Bhutan and India share a unique bond of friendship and trust, but it’s not the friendship treaty with Bhutan alone which mandates India to react confrontation-ally but security issues. The control over Doklam region will make the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China conduct military maneuvers by potentially blocking the Siliguri Corridor, a narrow stretch which connects India’s seven North-eastern states with rest of the country. If India does not react China will expand in the Chumbi valley, induct more troops, and increase viable threats.
There has been a slew of scathing words being exchanged through newspapers, blogs, and speeches between both nations. China claims the trespassing of Indian troops in Doklam region as a betrayal of the treaty signed in 1890 and sees India’s presence as a threat to its sovereignty. China’s state media have issued warnings to India through acerbic editorials advising unconditional withdrawal of its troops. On the other hand, India contended that the construction of road represents a significant change of status quo in the tri-junction, with precarious security implications involved. Nevertheless, India seeks peaceful dialogue and diplomacy to resolve the issue, over any possible war.
China predominantly views India as a rising developing power that can pose a threat in the long run. India’s forged coalition with other countries like USA, Japan, and other Pacific powers are seen as a counterbalance to China’s rising influence. This demonstrably makes India more a geopolitical threat than a military threat. Indian’s withdrawal will make China fortify further in dealing with territorial disputes with other neighbors. The best possible strategy for India should be a re-calibration of its long-term strategy to resolve this ‘dangerous’ dimension added to the current standoff. The ambitious One-Belt-One-Road project that is to revive the ancient Silk Route is of colossal importance to China. India’s official snub to this infrastructural magnanimity given China’s insensitivity over territorial integrity is a major irritant in both countries’ relations. These intermittent tensions have started affecting the trade functionaries, not to forget the huge bilateral commercial ties between both countries. Both sides must settle the largest yet peaceful boundary dispute of the world as soon as possible to avoid any major confrontation between both nuclear giants.
Article by Bharati.