India warns China over road construction in Bhutan territory

01 July 2017

India on Friday warned China against proceeding with the construction of a road in Bhutanese territory near their common border, saying that it would have serious security implications.

India has specifically told China that construction of a road in the Doklam area of Bhutan would harm India's security interests and is a violation of a written understanding between Indian and Chinese Special Representatives that the status of the boundary at any tri-junction would be resolved only with participation of the concerned third country.

China has been on the job of constructing a road in the tri-junction of Sikkim, India and Bhutan for nearly two weeks and Thimphu and New Delhi have now realised that it is inside Bhutan, although Beijing insists it is in China.

China has also taken a belligerent stance, saying that neither India nor Bhutan has any right to the land where it is building a road.

In fact, China also invoked the 1962 war, in which India lost heavily to warn India against trying to block its illegal construction.

Defence minister Arun jaitley, however, countered China's threat saying that today's India is much different from India of the 1960s.

New Delhi on Friday said it remained ''deeply concerned at the recent Chinese actions and has conveyed to the Chinese government that such construction would represent a significant change of status quo with serious security implications for India''.

The ''security implications'' are serious as Chinese construction activity usually precedes a strong claim on the territory. The Doklam area – which is part of Bhutan, but now claimed by China – will bring the Chinese even closer to the vulnerable 'chicken neck' Siliguri corridor that connects West Bengal and the rest of India to the north-eastern parts of the country.

For the Indian side, the construction of the road is also another way to force India's hand on the tri-junction, by trying to bring it more down south.

''In this context, the Indian side has underlined that the two governments had in 2012 reached agreement that the tri-junction boundary points between India, China, and third countries will be finalised in consultation with the concerned countries. Any attempt, therefore to unilaterally determine tri-junction points is in violation of this understanding,'' said the press note.

This is a written understanding that all three countries have to be part of any consultation on matters related to tri-junctions and there should not be any ambiguity on this.

This understanding, was reached in 2012 by Shivshankar Menon and Dai Bunguo, who were at the time the Indian and Chinese Special Representatives respectively.

Bhutan's foreign ministry said on Wednesday that the latest incident began when a PLA contingent, armed with earth moving heavy equipment, entered the Doklam plateau. They drove to a clearing in the area, named 'Turning Point', which is apparently very close to the Indian post of Doko-La on the Sikkim-Bhutan border.

Besides its proximity to Siliguri corridor, the Chinese also consider Doklam as strategically important, as it overlooks the Chumbi valley separating the Indian state of Sikkim from Bhutan. China has built roads on higher reaches of Bhutanese territory in the past, say official sources, but had not come down this far south before.

On spotting the Chinese PLA soldiers, Bhutanese soldiers at a border post called Chela on the Zompelri ridge, went to confront them and had a relatively long conversation to make them return to their previous positions.

But with the number of Chinese soldiers being much greater, the Bhutanese soldiers were pushed back. In the meantime, Indian soldiers came down from Doko-La post ''in coordination with the Royal Government of Bhutan'', the Indian government press release said.

Bhutanese soldiers had gone out of the area since and the security personnel of the two Asian giants found themselves in a face-to-face situation, which has continued till now.

The Indian and Chinese army are at a distance from each other, but close enough to have conversations. Indian army personnel informed the Chinese soldiers that they were trying to change the status quo, which was a violation of previous agreements.

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