Doklam standoff ends; India, China agree to disengage
New Delhi: India and China have agreed to a speedy disengagement on the Doklam plateau in Bhutan, ending a military standoff lasting more than two months.
It comes days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s scheduled to visit to China for the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) summit in Xiamen city.
That the Doklam standoff ended the way it did is being seen as a diplomatic victory for India and the Modi government. More importantly, it has initiated recalibration of the terms of engagement between the two neighbours who have always shared an uneasy relationship.
ALSO READ: A timeline to the Doklam standoff
While the official Indian response was measured, the Chinese, in keeping with the pattern over the last two months, continued to be belligerent—claiming that India had climbed down.
“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,” an Indian foreign ministry statement on Monday said. “On this basis, expeditious disengagement of border personnel at the face-off site at Doklam has been agreed to and is ongoing,” it added.
A second foreign ministry statement said the process of disengagement “has since been almost completed under verification”.
There were no details of the compromise reached to end the military face-off that began in June. But analysts like former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal said that by standing up to China, India had changed the terms of engagement between the two countries. Sibal maintained that China’s neighbours in South-East Asia, who had territorial disputes with Beijing, would be watching the Doklam developments closely.
“They will draw the right lessons without India needing to project this as a victory,” he said.
Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of Chinese studies at the Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University, said what is implicit in the Indian statements on disengagement is the understanding that China ended road construction on the Doklam plateau—the move that triggered the standoff.
A PTI report from Beijing said that China had told reporters that Indian troops had pulled back but was ambiguous about the status of its own troops. The news agency quoted Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying as saying, “The Chinese side continues to uphold sovereignty and territorial integrity according to the historical convention.”
The second statement issued by the Indian foreign ministry said India’s “principled” position had been that “agreements and understandings reached on boundary issues must be scrupulously respected.” India says that as per the terms of a pact arrived at with China in 2012, disputes over tri-junction areas—boundaries falling between three countries like in Doklam—have to be settled by all the three parties. India and China have held many rounds of bilateral talks but have not been able to demarcate their boundary—a legacy of their 1962 war.
Tensions between the Asian giants have been high since 16 June after Bhutan objected to an attempt by Chinese troops to build a road on the Doklam plateau. Indian troops stationed in Bhutan under a special security arrangement intervened to keep Chinese troops at bay. India said the action to construct the road changed the status quo and expressed concern that the road will allow China to cut off access to northeastern states.