Months after Doka La disengagement, 1,800 Chinese troops stationed at high-altitude region for first time in winters

Months after the 73-day-long standoff between China and India at Doka La ended, reports have emerged of around 1,600-1,800 People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops establishing a presence in the same area near the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet trijunction. According to The Times of India, the Chinese troops have constructed two helipads, scores of pre-fabricated huts, shelters and stores to withstand the freezing winter in the high-altitude region.

A source told the newspaper that earlier, the PLA patrols would come to Doka La between April-May and October-November every year to mark their presence and lay claim to the area before going back but now, after the recent standoff, the Chinese troops have stayed put in what India considers Bhutanese territory for the first time this winter.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

The report comes in after Army Chief Bipin Rawat cautioned that China is silently taking over territory and testing India's threshold. He had also warned of a two-front war on the western and northern borders.

"Salami slicing, taking over territory in a very gradual manner, testing our limits of threshold is something we have to be wary about and remain prepared for situations emerging which could gradually emerge into conflict...," Rawat said about China.

Meanwhile, Beijing maintains that Doka La belongs to China. "Doka La is Chinese territory," Colonel Wu Qian, spokesman of the Chinese Ministry of Defence said, when asked about reports that PLA continues to maintain a sizable number of troops close to the standoff site, reported Business Standard.

More recently, Beijing accused New Delhi of invading its airspace. Chinese media said that an Indian drone crashed in Doka La and warned of the consequences.

'Indian drone invaded airspace'

China's defence ministry claimed on 7 December that an Indian drone "invaded" its airspace and crashed. Beijing voiced strong dissatisfaction and opposition to the "intrusion by an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) belonging to New Delhi".

"The Indian move violated China's territorial sovereignty. We strongly express our dissatisfaction and opposition," deputy director of the army's western theatre combat bureau, Zhang Shuili, said in a statement.

While Zhang did not reveal details of where the incident happened, Chinese state media said that the drone crashed in Doka La near the Sikkim boundary, reported Hindustan Times. It also said the consequence of this "intrusion" could be far worse than losing a drone.

India, however, rejected Chinese claims and said the drone was on a regular training mission inside the Indian territory when it lost contact with the ground due to some technical problem. Indian officials alerted Chinese authorities over the missing unmanned aerial vehicle.

'Indian and Chinese troops present in Doka La'

Government sources had told The Indian Express that around 1,000 Chinese troops were still present on the plateau. The presence of PLA troops had thinned in the area after the disengagement process following the standoff but, one battalion of Chinese troops remained, the report added.

Rawat had said that both Indian and Chinese troops were present in Doka La, but were not in an "eyeball-to-eyeball" contact. "The PLA (People's Liberation Army) is still at Doka La, but they are at a reasonable distance from us and we are not in eyeball-to-eyeball contact," the army chief said.

A PTI report said that China has gradually been increasing its troop level in Doka La. Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa acknowledged this and said, "The two sides are not in a physical faceoff 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."

It further said that Beijing had started widening an existing road at a distance of 12 kilometres from the site of conflict.

'China to continue building roads'

After the two nations ended the 73-day Doka La standoff, China remained non-committal on the issue of stopping road construction.

"In order to meet the needs of defending the borders, improving the living conditions, China has long engaged in infrastructure development including the road construction," Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said.

A Chinese daily further said that Beijing will continue to build the road in Doka La and New Delhi's strong reaction to the "logical" construction is "eccentric". The state-run Global Times said Doka La belonged to China and "during the Doka La face-off, Beijing intensified efforts to develop infrastructure in the region and road construction there will be a long-term trend".

The standoff

Indian and Chinese troops were locked in a 73-day standoff in Doka La since 16 June after the Indian side stopped the building of a road in the disputed area by the Chinese Army. Bhutan and India were in touch with each other during the course of the face-off that ended on 28 August.

As part of the disengagement, the Chinese troops left the disputed area of Doka La along with bulldozers and removed the tents which they had pitched, according to a top Indian government official.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Dec 11, 2017 14:39:02 IST

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