Breaking precedent, China stations winter troops in Doklam

11 December 2017

A little over three months after a bitter border dispute over the Doklam plateau, which ended on 28 August, there are reports of a fresh presence of Beijing troops in the region.

In the freezing winter, around 1,800 Chinese troops have now virtually established a permanent presence in the area at the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet junction, according to a Times of India report, which adds that Chinese troops have constructed two helipads, upgraded roads, and set up scores of pre-fabricated huts, shelters and stores.

According to the report, while India has "achieved its strategic objective" of not letting China extend its existing road in Doklam, the fallout has been "the almost permanent stationing of People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops in the region".

Earlier, PLA patrols would come to Doklam every year to mark their presence and lay claim to the area before going back. But according to officials, both China and India would in the past withdraw troops from the advanced regions of that area during the harsh winter months.

On 1 December, the Chinese military had hinted that it would maintain a sizable presence of troops near the area of the standoff during winter, asserting that the region is in Chinese territory.

"Donglong (Doklam) is Chinese territory," Col Wu Qian, spokesman of the Chinese ministry of defence said when asked about reports that PLA continues to maintain a sizable number of troops close to the Dokalam standoff area, doing away with the practice of vacating the place during winter.

"Based on this principle we will decide on the deployment of troops on our own," he said without elaborating.

The continued presence of Chinese troops near Yatung close to Doklam reportedly prompted India too to maintain troops there.

While it is not clear whether the issue figured in the 10th round of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC) talks between India and China in New Delhi on 17 November, officials said the meeting reviewed the situation in all sectors of India-China border and exchanged views on enhancing Confidence Building Measures (CBMS) and military contacts.

Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat had warned in September that China would continue with its efforts to nibble away at disputed territories through "salami slicing", muscle-flexing and other measures.

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