The map Beijing released in June. The Torsa Nallah is in green, flowing left to right through Doklam
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 13th Jan 18
In New Delhi on Friday, army chief General Bipin Rawat provided the first authoritative account of a globally watched 73-day confrontation last year when India and China almost came to blows. The face off between several hundred armed soldiers from China and India took place at Doklam – an 89 square kilometre patch of land that is claimed by both China and Bhutan.
The face-off began on June 16, when Indian troops moved in strength into Doklam –territory that it did not own or claim – to block a large team of Chinese construction workers, escorted by troops of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), who began extending a track partly built during previous years. After weeks of tension, the crisis de-escalated on August 28 after tough negotiations between New Delhi and Beijing.
With both governments non-committal, analysts on both sides claimed victory – that they had forced the other side to withdraw. But today, Rawat admitted that Indian troops withdrew to their side of the border, while the PLA remains in Doklam.
Rawat’s verbatim account, with editors’ notes in brackets, is as follows.
“Doklam is an area that is divided into two parts: North Doklam and South Doklam. The Torsa nallah separates the two (green line on map, flowing left to right in Dong Lang, the Chinese name for Doklam). In South Doklam is a ridge called the Jampheri ridge, where the Royal Bhutan Army maintains a seasonal post. This is at the southern extremity of Doklam.
“As far as Northern Doklam is concerned, there are three passes… Through these passes, specifically through a pass called Batang La, the Chinese had been building a road since 2000… a little before. Till June 2016, they had come in quite close to our area and to the Torsa Nala. They would come, build a road and go back.
“But one fine day last year the Chinese came with fairly large amount of equipment, large amount of people, supported by the PLA. Up to June 2016 there was fairly inconspicuous activity – one or two bulldozers that would scrape the earth and go away. But this time we found that the kind of equipment and manpower they came with, they meant business. We felt they would probably try and claim the whole of Doklam and build a road there, and probably reach where the RBA post was [at Jampheri]. That was our impression.
“We realised that if this was going to happen, we would have to block it. This was posing a threat to us and was changing the status quo… and violating our agreement with the Chinese to maintain the status quo. So we were compelled to take action and block them. That led to a stalemate, which continued [for 73 days].”
“[After the negotiated disengagement of August 28] the PLA has occupied Northern Doklam. They are there...
“During the Doklam crisis, let me tell you we had excellent coordination with the government; I daresay between the PMO, the ministry of external affairs (MEA), the ministry of defence and the army.
“The issue was that we had actually stepped into territory that wasn’t ours. And when you step into a territory which is not yours, the MEA comes in. It is not that you have stepped into your territory, but into territory which either belonged to China or to Bhutan. It didn’t belong to us.
“So hereinafter, what happened is that the China have stayed put in that area… The disengagement said that we should not have a face-to-face confrontation, because here we were face-to-face. We said we should separate out. That separation has taken place.
“We have come back from where we had stepped in, [and returned] to our own territory. We are now on the watershed. And the Chinese too have gone back that much distance. But behind that, they have continued to maintain themselves.
“When this [Doklam] escalation took place, we saw a large number of [Chinese] troops in other areas of Tibet, including some guns and some tanks and other equipment. But let me tell you that we have seen that complete equipment almost gone. But as far as the North Doklam area is concerned… the Chinese are there.
“But there too, thinning out has happened. We had worked out in the disengagement that we would keep the separation between us. But even behind that, while there are a large number of tents in that area, a large amount of troops have gone back from that area. We are not seeing the kind of activity that we were seeing in that area in the month of June, July and August.
“The tents remain. He (the Chinese) had constructed some toilets and those toilets remain. He had created some observation posts… and those structures remain. But we are seeing a reduction in manpower.
“As of now, we feel the de-escalation has happened because of the winter months, maybe; or because he felt it was time to de-escalate. But because the structures are still there – he has a lot of temporary structures – there is a possibility of movement again taking place once the winter months get over.
“Should he come in again, we will again take a call on what has to be done. But let me tell you diplomatic efforts are on to de-escalate everything and see that everything returns to normalcy.
“More important now is the engagement between Bhutan and China, and how they resolve the issue. There are border demarcation talks also happening between Bhutan and China. How they progress, we will have to wait and watch.”