The territory, which is contested by both Beijing and Bhutan, was the site of a 73-day standoff between India and China this past summer
India says China troops remain in vicinity of contested Doklam
Barely a month after India and China ended a tense border stand-off between their armies, Indian military officials have confirmed that Chinese troops continue to remain in the vicinity of Doklam, where the deadlock occurred.
At a press conference on Thursday, BS Dhanoa, India’s air force chief, said a Chinese military presence persisted in the Chumbi Valley, fewer than a dozen kilometres from Doklam.
The troops are engaged in widening a road in the Chumbi Valley, which lies in Chinese-controlled southern Tibet, Mr Dhanoa said. Doklam, which was the site of the 73-day stand-off between India and China this past summer, is in an area contested by China and Bhutan, and borders the Indian state of Sikkim.
This summer's stand-off began when Beijing claimed Indian troops had stepped in to prevent China from extending a road from its territory into Doklam. In turn, New Delhi claimed China had violated an existing border agreement, and that its new road would impose security concerns upon India’s strategic land corridor, which lies nearby.
The frictions abated on August 28, after the armies decided to “disengage”, with each side withdrawing its troops by 150 metres.
Mr Dhanoa did not say how many Chinese soldiers were in the Chumbi Valley, only that the two sides were "not in a physical face-off as we speak". However, he added: "Their forces in Chumbi Valley are still deployed and I expect them to withdraw as their exercise in the area gets over.”
Separately, a report in the Indian Express newspaper claimed that at least 1,000 Chinese troops were still in Doklam, positioned roughly 800 metres from the location of the stand-off, and that the temporary tents and sheds they erected earlier this summer were still in place.
The Chinese government defended its retention of troops in Doklam, saying the area “has always belonged to China and has been under the effective jurisdiction of China".
"There is no dispute. The Chinese border forces have been patrolling in the area of [Doklam], exercising their sovereign rights and safeguarding territorial sovereignty,” a foreign ministry statement added.
Raveesh Kumar, spokesman at India's foreign ministry, said on Friday that the “status quo” established on August 28, still prevails. “There are no new developments at the face-off site and its vicinity since the … disengagement,” he said.
Mr Dhanoa, however, stressed the Indian air force was “ready for any contingency which may or may not take place”.
His statements, along with the lack of specific detail in the foreign ministry statement, have raised concerns about tension rising yet again between India and China — a worrying prospect, given the size of both their armies and the fact that both have nuclear weapons.
Although the stand-off over the summer never erupted into outright violence, the simmering tension abated only with adroit diplomacy from both sides. In particular, negotiators used the then-impending Brics summit in Xiamen on September 4 as a deadline, since India’s prime minister Narendra Modi and China’s president Xi Jinping were expected to meet on the sidelines of the conference.
Despite the peaceful resolution of that deadlock and the assurances that emerged during the disengagement negotiations in August, India continues to be wary of China’s intentions, said one retired senior military officer, who asked not to be quoted by name.
Although India’s soldiers returned their posts nearby, their numbers have increased as a contingency.
“The tension has reduced since the summer, but now there’s always the expectation that it will go back up again,” the officer said.
Security experts have meanwhile warned that such frictions along the India-China border would become commonplace.
An analysis paper from the defence think tank Centre for Joint Warfare Studies warned early last month that "Doklam is likely to be the new normal".
Written by Vinod Bhatia, a former lieutenant-general in the Indian army and now the director of the Centre for Joint Warfare Studies, the paper says the Line of Actual Control, the India-China border that is disputed in several sections, “will be constantly and continuously under stress, with [an] increase in frequency, intensity and depth of [Chinese] transgressions, leading to more and more stand-offs".