Kakugha Sumi Naga
Khetoi Village, Aghunato
One of the two Asian Giants- India and China have been locking their horn in the Doklam or Donglang sector of Bhutan near Chumbi valley at the corner of India Bhutan, China tri-junction. The Months-long border stand-off has become the longest ever between the two Nations. The confrontation Started when China attempted to build a road from Yadong to Doklam, located in Chumbi valley near Nathu La pass. Indian troops intervened to block the path of Chinese soldiers engaged in building this road-works. Beijing responded by closing access to Indian pilgrims seeking to proceed through the Nathu La pass on to Kailash-Mansarovar. The growing rhetoric from the two major powers involved – India and China, with the latter being a bit extra vociferous and outspoken with the language used through its state-run press. The issue has even led to Bhutan being termed ‘a stone between two rocks’ and there is a dangerous possibilities of further escalation of tension which will surely disturb the whole economy and security scenario in the region.
China has repeatedly disputed Bhutan’s claim over Doklam – A 269 sq km plateau in Bhutan which overlooks the strategic Chumbi valley. China’s position is that, since the Doklam is their territory they have every right to undertake any development activities in this region and India’s incursion under the pretext of protecting another Sovereign country- Bhutan is a clear violation of international norms and so it must unconditionally withdrew its troops from the region. Beijing considers this plateau vital to fortify the dagger- ship Chumbi valley by piercing the tri-junction. China has been keen to establish its physical presence in this region according to the 1890 Convention signed between Great Britain and China on March 17, 1890, at Calcutta. With China’s Belt and Road Initiative gaining momentum and completion of infrastructure programmes like Lhasa-Shigatse Railway, China appears to have turned its attention to the Doklam plateau to establish a strong presence close to the Indian border.
Construction of road in this region would help China’s military logistics in the region. China also aims to promote the development of the Yadong region, which is connected to Lhasa with a highway.China is also aiming to establish formal ties with Bhutan. At the same time it is seeking to check India’s efforts to help Bhutan.
India’s objection on Doklam can be seen from different angles:
1) Being a sovereign democratic republic, India has sworn to protect its people from external attack, if it is to happen. Indian officials were convinced that aggression in the lines of that would occur, if the road construction was to be let off.
2) India has a long standing commitment to Bhutan’s defense and serves as a virtual security guarantor to Bhutan through the 2007 friendships treaty and Doklam is a disputed area between China and Bhutan and therefore India felt that it must ensure protection to Bhutan’s national interest.
3) Doklam is critical to India as it brings China even closer to the Indian border in a one label location towards the 27 km long Siliguri corridor or Chicken’s Neck that connects the Northeastern states to the rest of India.
4) India accused China of bullying a smaller nation for their national interest and by doing this is trying to create a new normal challenging the status quo position in the region. India sees this as a threat to the security in the region.
If India and China choose to sort out the problem through violence and war many analysts feared that it would rock the Indo-Pacific region with thousands of casualties on both sides and take a significant toll on the global economy which might also take both countries backward by fifty to sixty years. With a combined population of about 2.6 billon i.e 36.41% of total world population and combined economy of about 13.2 trillion i.e 17.67 % (PWC report 2016) of the total world economy and is predicted to be the first and second largest economy in the world by 2050, both China and India can’t effort war at this juncture and must not remain complacent but must join hands together in solving many of the world’s problems. War will also mean disruption of $ 71 billion (FY 2015-16) trade relations between china and India which will cause a wider economic ramification for both countries. Sharing a total boundary of around 3,380 km and many common national interests, the spirit of “Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai” must be revived and good neighborly relationships must be strengthen and established.
In the immediate term talks must focus on defusing the tensions at the tri-junction. Firstly, India must either withdrew its troops unconditionally from the region and allow Bhutanese troops to replace it so that the problem will be solved peacefully through diplomatic channel between China and Bhutan or both India and China negotiate to withdrew their own troops unlitarally and return to status quo position.
Secondly, Apart from its own commitments to the status quo, Beijing must recognise the special relationship India and Bhutan have shared since 1947, the friendship treaty of 2007 that commits India to protecting Bhutan’s interests, and the close coordination between the two militaries.
Thirdly, India must recognise that the face-off is in Bhutanese territory, and the rules of engagement could be different from those of previous India-China bilateral clashes — at Depsang and Demchok in the western sector, for example. And finally, the media house of both sides should tone down the temperature relating to the border stand-off.