New Delhi/Beijing, August 28 (IANS) The 75-day-long tense standoff between India and China in Doklam ended on Monday with both sides agreeing to withdraw troops from the disputed region in the tri-junction with Bhutan, in a breakthrough ahead of next week’s BRICS summit in China that is likely to be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The exact contours of the deal between the two sides is not clear. While India maintained that both sides have agreed to withdraw their troops, a demand External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had made in Parliament last month, China claimed that the Indian troops have withdrawn to Indian territory and that its army will continue to patrol the area.
There was also no clarity on what happens to the road construction by China that was the trigger for the standoff that began on June 16 when Indian troops stopped a People’s Liberation Army contingent from building a road in Doklam.
Indian External Affairs Ministry broke the news on the development on Monday morning, which was shortly followed by the Chinese Foreign Office confirming the disengagement.
The External Affairs Ministry statement said “In recent weeks, India and China have maintained diplomatic communication in respect of the incident at Doklam. During these communications, we were able to express our views and convey our concerns and interests”.
“On this basis, expeditious disengagement of border personnel at face-off site at Doklam has been agreed to, and is ongoing.”
Indian Army sources said that the process of “disengagement” of its troops had begun, with the Chinese side also withdrawing its soldiers.
The withdrawal of Indian troops from the standoff point started around noon on Monday.
Around 350-400 Indian troops were there at the border point. India had refused to withdraw its soldiers unless there was a simultaneous withdrawal from the Chinese side as well.
The decision to disengage their troops comes ahead of a crucial BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit being hosted by China on September 3-4, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to attend.
In Beijing, the Foreign Ministry said that China is pleased over India’s withdrawal but stated that Chinese troops will “remain in the region” and exercise their “sovereignty over the region”.
Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said that Chinese border troops will “continue to patrol in Donglong”, which India refers to as Doklam, in the Sikkim sector.
“On the afternoon of August 28, the Indian side pulled back all the Indian troops and equipment to the Indian side of the boundary and the Chinese personnel have verified this,” Hua said.
“The Chinese side will continue to exercise its sovereignty and uphold its territorial integrity in accordance with historical conventions,” she added.
Asked if the disengagement was from both sides, Hua repeated the same statement.
“Just now you mentioned that the Indian side has said it is a mutual engagement, but I want to stress that India has withdrawn all the personnel and equipment to the Indian side of the boundary.
“Chinese personnel on the ground has verified this and Chinese border troops continue to patrol in the Donlong area.”
However, she said: “In the light of the changes of the situation on the ground China will make necessary adjustment and deployment.”
Asked what she meant, she did not elaborate.
This is in contrast to India’s statement that both countries have agreed to “disengage” in Doklam.
Relations between the two nations had dipped to a new low over the standoff at Doklam, with the Chinese side refusing to withdraw. Beijing had accused India of transgressing into its territory and demanded immediate withdrawal of Indian troops. The Chinese side, especially the state media, since then had been on an offensive, and on occasions issued veiled threats of war.
India has maintained that both sides should withdraw simultaneously for any dialogue on the issue, and asserted that war was not a solution.
Amidst the standoff, Prime Minister Modi met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Hamburg on the sidelines of the G20 summit, while National Security Advisor Ajit Doval held talks with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi in Beijing on the sidelines of a BRICS security meet.