The Indian government on Friday expressed deep concern over China constructing a road in the disputed Doklam area near Sikkim, and said it had conveyed to Beijing that such an action would represent a significant change of status quo with serious security implications for India.
India’s reaction that follows a face-off between Indian and Chinese troops in the area prompted Beijing to take a tough stance and demand the withdrawal of Indian troops from the Sikkim sector as a precondition for meaningful dialogue to resolve the situation. China also accused India of being a third party to China-Bhutan dispute.
Troops from China’s People’s Liberation Army continue to deploy construction equipment in an effort to drive a dirt track through the strategic Doklam plateau despite a three-week stand-off with the Indian Army and the Royal Bhutan Army, senior Indian government officials said on Friday. The PLA’s road works, the officials said, are aimed at bringing a road close to Doka La, India’s last military post on the junction of its boundary with Bhutan and China.
New Delhi on Friday ended its silence on the 15-day-long face-off between the army and the PLA at the tri-junction point at the boundary of India, China, and Bhutan. India said that China’s move to build the road and thus to unilaterally change the status quo in the area was in violation of a 2012 bilateral understanding.
The face-off started on June 16 when the PLA entered the Doklam Plateau with heavy construction equipment to build a motorable road. The Royal Bhutan Army had some soldiers posted at a camp at the nearby Zompelri.
In first official comments on the crisis, New Delhi admitted that its troops had blocked People’s Liberation Army PLA road works inside Bhutan territory claimed by China, saying “such construction would represent a significant change of status quo with serious security implications for India”.
India and Bhutan, the government said, have been in continuous contact over the Doklam developments. “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,” a government statement said.
It said the matter has been under discussion at the diplomatic level, both in New Delhi and Beijing. Sources said that Indian Ambassador Vijay Gokhale had conveyed India’s concerns in Beijing, while senior officials in the Ministry of External Affairs have reached out to their Chinese counterparts. “It was also the subject of a Border Personnel Meeting at Nathu La on 20 June,” the government said.
Reacting to China’s contention, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said it was essential that all parties concerned displayed utmost restraint and abide by their respective bilateral understandings not to change the status quo unilaterally.
It is also important that the consensus reached between India and China through the Special Representatives process was scrupulously respected by both sides, the Ministry said.
In keeping with their tradition of maintaining close consultation on matters of mutual interest, Bhutan and India were in continuous contact through the unfolding of these developments, it said.
As far as the boundary in the Sikkim sector was concerned, India and China reached an understanding in 2012, reconfirming their mutual agreement on the “basis of the alignment”, the Ministry said.
The Indian side has underlined that the two governments had agreed in 2012 that the tri-junction boundary points between India, China, and third countries will be finalized in consultation with the countries concerned. ‘Any attempt, therefore, to unilaterally determine tri-junction points is in violation of this understanding,’ according to the sources.
Though both sides appear committed to avoiding any escalation of the stand-off, the history of the 1967 crisis in the Chumbi Valley the same territory now at stake shows disputes over border construction can have serious outcomes. In that case, India responded to Chinese trench construction on its side of the boundary by laying a barbed-wire fence, leading the PLA to open fire with machine guns.
Indian Army units, well positioned on high ground above the Sebu La pass, were able to bring down accurate artillery fire, destroying several bunkers and inflicting large numbers of casualties. Later that year, a scuffle on the Cho La pass again led to clashes, in which the PLA was pushed back three kilometers. The initial attack, scholar Taylor Fravel recorded, was not authorized by China’s all-powerful Central Military Commission, and then Premier Zhou Enlai subsequently ordered the PLA not to open fire unless fired upon.
Further discussions on finalization of the boundary were taking place under the Special Representatives framework, as per sources.