NEW DELHI: Reports were in circulation for a while of China moving troops into Doklam---figures ranging from 500 to 1000--to begin construction of the road that New Delhi had so gleefully claimed in ‘unofficial’ briefings to have stopped.
And while India moved back its troops insisting that the Chinese too had given up construction of the road seen as a security threat in New Delhi, China evaded specific questions giving sufficient indications that it had not given up its right to construct the road on territory it claimed as its own. In fact this was evident from the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson at a briefing in Beijing end August but was drowned in the cacophony of triumph blasted over Indian media channels. Ha Chunying said, “Chinese border troops continue to be stationed and patrol in order to meet the needs of defending our borders and improving living conditions.”
And added,“We will take into consideration all factors, including weather, to make relevant construction plans according to situations on ground.” Not a word here that China had agreed to stop the construction, and withdraw its troops.
The first confirmation that the Chinese troops were in Doklam, and indeed might never have left the venue, has come now from Air Force Chief Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa who said, "They are still stationed in the Chumbi valley in Doklam area and that India is still hoping for them to go back.”
He said there was no face off now, but the Chinese troops were very much present in the Chumbi Valley. In June Indian soldiers had crossed the border to prevent China from constructing the road. The standoff that was tense, and hostile, continued for two months with China clear that there would be no discussions until and unless India backed off from the territory claimed by both Beijing and Bhutan. India claimed to have crossed in as a third party to defend Bhutan’s interests, and address its own strategic concerns about this construction.
India claimed victory after some negotiations that had National Security Advisor Ajit Doval also conferring with his Chinese hosts in Beijing but clearly China remains in command. And has resumed the construction, just 10 km away from the original venue, on the pretext of widening the current track and thereby registering yet again its claim on the Doklam Plateau.
Army Chief Bipin Rawat has been credited with the statement, "As far as the Northern adversary is concerned, flexing of muscles has started. Salami slicing, taking over territory in a very gradual manner, testing our limits or threshold is something we have to be wary about. Remain prepared for situations that are emerging gradually into conflict."
It now remains to be seen what steps India will take to check China, if at all. Last time around hostility between the two countries touched new levels, with Beijing issuing almost daily bulletins against the Indian government and its media war. It kept issuing warnings of a possible military confrontation until and unless New Delhi pulled out its troops, in statements that generated visible concern in world capitals. India did not join the verbal war, maintaining its counsel, and moving out its troops with what the government said came with a confirmation from China that it would do the same. That it has not really is clear, as it has started construction at another point to register its claim on the strategic plateau.
There has been no official response from New Delhi as yet to the news that has finally escaped the shroud of secrecy with which it had been covered for the past several days. If it acts it will clearly provoke China into the promised military confrontation; if it does not it will have to explain how the strategic concerns that prompted the military stand off have suddenly disappeared.
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