India denies any change in status quo at Doklam
27 July 2018
India’s external affairs ministry has refuted reports of China quietly resuming construction activities in the Doklam area, saying that there was no change in status quo since the standoff between India and China ended in August 2017.
“I would reiterate that since the disengagement of Indian and Chinese border personnel in the Doklam area on August 28, 2017, there have been no new developments at the face-off site and its vicinity. The status quo prevails in this area,” an MEA spokesperson said in a statement.
He was responding to the comments by a US official during a US Congressional hearing that China has quietly resumed its activities in the Doklam area in the India-Bhutan-China trijunction.
During a US Congress subcommittee hearing on budget priorities for South Asia on Thursday, Congresswoman Ann Wagner referred to the standoff at Doklam and said, “Although both countries backed down, China has quietly resumed its activities in Doklam and neither Bhutan nor India has sought to dissuade it. China’s activities in the Himalayas remind me of its South China Sea policies.”
Wagner further asked how the US failure to respond to the militarisation of the South China Sea would inform the international response to these Himalayan border disputes.
Without directly referring to Doklam, Alice G Wells, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, responded saying, “I would assess that India is vigorously defending its northern borders and this is a subject of concern to India.”
The Indian Army also reiterated that there has been no change in the status quo at the disputed site. “They (China) have not crossed the Torsa Nala. Whatever activities, small or big, they have undertaken is in the same area they are already there,” an Army source said.
Last year, the two armies were engaged in a 73-day standoff at Doklam near the India-Bhutan-China tri-junction after Indian soldiers prevented Chinese soldiers from building a road in the disputed territory.
Wells said as India looks ahead to its own strategic stability, it “certainly helps to drive and is a factor in driving closer partnership that we (US) enjoy with India.” In this regard, she observed that the Indo-Pacific strategy put forward by the Trump administration was taken in light of the South China Sea Strategy.
China, which claims most of the energy rich South China Sea, has reclaimed several islands in the sea and has recently militarised them.
Stressing on the need to maintain maritime security and keep the region open through which 70 per cent of global trade passes, Wells said, “We need to do that by giving authority to sovereign nations to have choices in how they develop, to have choices in their partnerships.”
The US, Wells added, should try to gather like-minded countries that can bring resources to the table, which can coordinate assistance and an effort so as “to provide countries with meaningful alternatives.”