The Doko La Faceoff

The Himalayan stand-off between India and China remains tense as ever. China intensified its rhetoric on Monday, once again accusing India of trespassing on its territory and using Bhutan as cover. “In order to cover up the illegal entry by Indian troops into the Chinese territory, Indian side wants to infringe upon Bhutan’s sovereignty and they try to confuse right from wrong. This is futile. We have no objection to normal bilateral relations between India and Bhutan but are firmly opposed to the Indian side infringing on Chinese territory using Bhutan as an excuse,” said a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry according to The Indian Express.

The current stand-off began on the Doklam plateau, part of the Chumbi Valley a sliver of Chinese with Bhutan to its east, Indian Sikkim to its west and the Siliguri corridor to its south. On June 16, the PLA began work on a road from Doko La (part of Doklam) that would, according to the Bhutanese government, reach ‘towards the Bhutan Army camp at Zompelri.’

Bhutan and India protested. For India, the Chinese road seemed to be aimed at one of its most vulnerable spots, the narrow Siliguri corridor. On June 30, the Ministry of External Affairs confirmed that it had ‘conveyed to the Chinese Government that such construction would represent a significant change of status quo with serious security implications for India.’

Defusing the Crisis

Doklam and the Chumbi Valley will be familiar names to aficionados of the Great Game. In 1904, Francis Younghusband’s expedition to Lhasa made its way through this region. Yet as Pradip Phanjoubam argues, the standoff has ‘nothing to do with this history, but with current realpolitik. In the wake of India leaning towards the United States, and the US allegedly attempting to use India as a pivot to counterweigh China, Beijing probably is sending a message to New Delhi that it can have a better friend nearer home, and equally, a worse adversary nearer home.’

Phanjoubam wisely counsels, that the ‘two giants need to acknowledge certain truths. On China’s part, it needs to understand India’s concern about the Chumbi valley where the mutual allegations of border incursions are being made. This narrow valley wedged between Sikkim and Bhutan, points like a dagger at the Chicken’s Neck or Siliguri corridor, which connects the Northeast with the rest of India. It is, therefore, legitimate for India to be worried about a dagger pointed at his neck even if the dagger is not touching its neck or the wielder of the dagger is a friend. On India’s part, since Tibet is now Chinese territory, it is legitimate for the latter to connect its territories by roads. A settlement, if any, will have to be placed between these two concerns.’

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