Doklam, the disputed region between Bhutan and China, is an area comprising a plateau and a valley, lying between Tibet’s Chumbi Valley towards the north, Bhutan’s Ha Valley towards the east, and India’s Sikkim towards the west. It is a tri-junction to the three countries.
Both Bhutan and China have made claims over the disputed land. China, being larger in area, population, and troops, always dominated Bhutan, making it impossible for the country to fight back. In the 1949 treaty, Bhutan agreed to being guided by India in its foreign policies and defence affairs. The treaty got renewed in the form of a new friendship treaty in 2007. India has been supporting Bhutan’s claim to Doklam since then. In 2012, India and China reached an agreement that the status of Doklam would be finalised only through joint consultations involving all parties concerned.
The issue was highlighted in June 2017, when Chinese troops attempted to extend a road from Yadong (a Chinese town) to Doklam. This road runs from Doka La town directly to the Bhutanese Army Camp at Zompelri. The Foreign Ministry of Bhutan called it a direct violation of the 1988 and 1998 agreements to maintain peace by refraining from unilateral action. It consulted India. India alleged that China was illegally constructing roads on a disputed territory. Satellite pictures revealed the construction of new helipads, trenches, a 2-storey watch tower and several military establishments. It was all followed by the 3-month stand-off between the armed forces of India and China in the site of Doka La.
China also made allegations against India for trespassing the boundary and questioned why India was interrupting in a matter that concerned Beijing and Bhutan. Later, China told India that Jawaharlal Nehru had accepted the 1890 Britain-China treaty – which was contradictory to the 1959 letter he wrote to Zhou, asserting that he had only agreed on the upper Sikkim and Tibetan border areas, especially mentioning that the tri-junction was not to be included.
China has claims on other Himalayan areas as well – 84,000 sq kms in Arunachal Pradesh (southern Tibet) and 37,000 sq km in the Ladakh region (Aksai Chin). China also argued that Bhutan had enough sovereignty to take care of its own matters and that India didn’t need to be the helping hand. At the end of August 2017, India and China mutually agreed to the disengagement of the military face-off on the plateau, but even after the withdrawal, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has insisted on keeping a patrol in the area.
Securing Doklam is essential for India to maintain its control over the land-corridor that connects to its Northeastern states. Chinese road projects threaten the access to this corridor. Also, it is the flashpoint along the disputed borders of two Asian giants. Giving it directly to China would affect the reliable relations Bhutan shares with India. India’s foreign policy would also be at stake. As we know, China was, and still is, very peculiar about its territories – so it won’t miss a chance to invade. It might claim other areas as well.
Many analysts have subtly presented the view that this is not just an India-China stand-off, and that Bhutan can take care of its interests. Tsering Shakya made a remark that Bhutan is capable of solving its border problems, only if India allows it – and also that India is involved here because of personal agendas. This issue has stretched on for far longer than expected. India hasn’t done as tremendously well as it was expected to.
There were agreements made for not using force to change the status quo of the boundary. Time and again, all the three countries have agreed, disagreed, and violated the laws. Since 1984, around 24 rounds of boundary talks have been held. India has always been amiable towards its neighbouring countries. Bhutan took the help of India, as counselled by the US. While the conditions of war certainly don’t exist, minimal chances are still there, as with the 1962 Sino-Indian war. No country can take a unilateral decision on the Doklam issue. It has to be mutual.
A day ago, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman asserted that India is alert and ready for any unforeseen situation in Doklam. The modernisation of forces is in progress, and is devoted to maintaining the territorial integrity. Ms Sitharaman will visit China in late April this year. Following that, there will be the expected bilateral meet of Prime Minister Modi with President Xi Jinping, during his visit to be a part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit to be held in Qingdao on June 9 and 10.