Chinese troops in Doka La region not infraction of standoff disengagement terms

Over a month after India and China ended the tense standoff at Doka La near Sikkim, reports about Beijing widening an already existing road around 12-kilometres from the site of conflict in Doka La coupled with Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa's acknowledgement that Chinese troops are still deployed in Chumbi Valley has triggered fears of another engagement between the two countries.

"The two sides are not in a physical face-off as we speak. However, their forces in Chumbi Valley are still deployed and I expect them to withdraw as their exercise in the area gets over," Dhanoa told reporters on Thursday. He also hoped that the troops would withdraw when summer exercise gets over.

 Chinese troops in Doka La region not infraction of standoff disengagement terms

Representational image. Reuters

PTI also quoted sources saying that the troops will leave the area during winters. However, Hindustan Times quoted sources as saying that "the PLA was constructing a road in Chumbi valley but added that the area was under Chinese control and the development did not have strategic implications for India."

On 28 August, when both the countries announced the decision of disengagement in the region, the Chinese foreign ministry had explicitly said, "The Chinese border troops will continue with their patrols in the Dong Lang area."

"China will continue with its exercise of sovereign rights to protect territorial sovereignty in accordance with the stipulations of the border-related historical treaty."

China also said that in view of the changing landscape, it will make "necessary adjustments and deployments". Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, remained mum on the withdrawal of PLA troops, she made it very clear that India is withdrawing all its border personnel and equipment that were illegally on the Chinese territory to the Indian side.

India, on its part, released a short statement, saying "on this basis, expeditious disengagement of border personnel at the face-off site at Doklam has been agreed to and is on-going."

It is important to note here that while the two sides decided to withdraw troops from the disputed region, there was no explicit communication about the road that the Chinese side was building or even about the stationing of PLA troops in the region in future.  Therefore, any troop deployment from the Chinese side does not indicate that another standoff is in the offing.

The Indian Express reported that the presence of Chinese troops thinned in the area after the process of "disengagement" began, but one PLA battalion remains on the plateau, said sources. The troops did not dismantle any of their tents and still have road construction equipment, hinting at the fact that the PLA troops did not leave the area entirely. China only 'adjusted' as the situation demanded.


While this suggests a return to the status quo, The Wire noted, "there is no clarity on whether it was the status quo ante that prevailed before China started building the road, or before Indian soldiers went in to stop them building that road."

China, according to the report, had previously built roads in Doka La but was never seriously challenged. "This time (before the standoff), the road construction went much further south, with plans to connect the road north of Torsa nala to the Zompelri Ridge, where Royal Bhutan Army has a post."

A document released by the Chinese government during the standoff also claimed that India was notified before the road-building exercise. "China did not cross the boundary in its road building, and it notified India in advance in full reflection of China's goodwill."

Therefore, China deploying PLA troops or even constructing or widening a road does not translate to Beijing sounding a war bugle. Despite India arguing that any road construction is in violation of a 2012 "understanding" between the special representatives that the tri-junction boundary point would be decided "in consultation" with all three countries, there's no stopping China. It has been regularly patrolling the area, without opposition from Bhutan or India until now.

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Updated Date: Oct 06, 2017 12:35:06 IST