A brief understanding of the Indo-China Doklam stand-off and mitigation of the possible armed conflict
Author: Jui Masurekar
College: Pravin Gandhi College of Law
A few kilometers north of the Siliguri Corridor which is a narrow 20 k.m. wide expanse of land connecting the seven North-Eastern states to the rest of the Indian mainland, lies the region of the Doklam plateau. This highly disputed territory lies near the trisection of India, Bhutan, and China. This region has been the bone of contention between the Kingdom of Bhutan and the Republic of China, with both countries claiming it to be a part of their territory. The generally dormant border dispute quickly turned active in June, 2017.
It all began on June 16, 2017, when troops of the People’s Liberation Army of China and some construction workers were spotted in the disputed territory of the Doklam Plateau. China was attempting to construct a road in the plateau, seeking to strengthen its position at the disputed border. Threatened by the proximity to the ‘Chicken’s neck’ which is the Siliguri Corridor, the Indian Armed forces assisted the Royal Bhutanese Army on the latter’s request, to hold the Chinese at bay. The Government of Bhutan allowed the Indian troops present in the Sikkim region to resist this encroachment, thereby starting the three-month long and exceedingly tense ‘Doklam Stand-off’. India had no alternative but to come to the aid of Bhutan, not only because of the India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty of 2007- whereby India has agreed to serve as Bhutan’s virtual ‘security guarantor’, but also if India violated the Friendship treaty China would seek to persuade Bhutan to side with it. One of the key Chinese objectives in initiating the Doklam stand-off seems to be testing India’s resolve to stand by Bhutan.[i]
Subsequently, tensions between India and China kept rising. China shut down the Nathu La pass citing damage to the roads in Tibet due to rain, forcing the Kailash Mansarovar pilgrims to return. China also served a notice on India to withdraw its forces from the region, which had allegedly ‘trespassed’ into its territory of Dong Lang, an area which is located on the Chinese side of the Sikkim Sector of the China-India boundary. Chinese Diplomats stated that China has shown ‘utmost goodwill’ over the prolonged military stand-off with India in the Sikkim sector but warned that its restraint had a “bottom line”[ii].
The stand-off that seemed like it would only escalate came to an end due to the consistent covert diplomatic efforts of India through the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and senior diplomat Vijay Gokhale. India had also threatened to boycott the ninth BRICS summit, which is to be held in Xiamen, China this year. The tense Doklam stand-off came to a halt on August 28, 2017, as both the Indian Ministry of External Affairs and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs released slightly varying statements, albeit to the same effect, that the issue had been resolved and that ‘disengagement’ had commenced.
The culmination of the stand-off is a diplomatic victory for India, and Prime Minister Modi will visit the BRICS Summit with his head held high. The 9th Annual BRICS Summit is scheduled to take place in China from September 3 to September 5, 2017.This meeting will pave the way for discussions between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, in the aftermath of the Doklam stand-off.
[i]Why Doklam and Bhutan matter: India can’t be seen to abandon its allies, (September 2, 2017), http://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/why-doklam-and-bhutan-matter-india-can-t-be-seen-to-abandon-its-allies/story-RNfcubBZB7omXp850w9A0N.html
[ii]Timeline: the story of the Doklam stand-off, (September 2, 2017),http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/timeline-the-story-of-the-doklam-stand-off/article19576380.ece