1,600 Chinese troops still hold position near Doklam faceoff site
Around 1,600 Chinese soldiers are present in the area where the People’s Liberation Army has built pre-fabricated structures and storage facilities, set up sentry posts and strengthened existing roads, sources in the defence establishment said.Updated: Dec 12, 2017, 07:34 IST
The Chinese army has beefed up its deployment in Doklam sector, the scene of a tense faceoff with India, with some 1,600 troops stationed in the area after a considerable upgrade of infrastructure, including sentry posts and roads.
The move reflects a marked shift from Beijing’s earlier strategy of not conducting patrols during the harsh winter months in Doklam, a largely uninhabited area at the strategic India-Bhutan-China tri-junction.
Around 1,600 Chinese soldiers are present in the area where the People’s Liberation Army has built pre-fabricated structures and storage facilities, set up sentry posts and strengthened existing roads, sources in the defence establishment said.
The deployment pattern and supporting infrastructure indicate the Chinese troops are prepared to camp in the area through the winter, or at least till March or April, the sources said.
Military officials said this is a stark departure from previous years, when Chinese soldiers would carry out patrols in Doklam or Donglang – which is controlled by Beijing but claimed by Thimphu – only till the onset of winter in November, when the region becomes snowbound.
A diplomatic source said it would not be difficult for Chinese troops to remain at Doklam and be supplied through the winter months as their positions are at an altitude of about 15,000 feet.
There was no official reaction from the external affairs ministry on the bolstering of Chinese troops in Doklam. However, the ministry’s spokesperson told a news briefing on December 8 that India had not noticed “any new development at the faceoff site and its vicinity since the August 28 disengagement”.
The spokesperson had added that status quo prevailed in the area and highlighted the need to maintain peace and tranquillity in border areas as an “important prerequisite for the smooth development” of bilateral relations.
Indian Army chief Gen Bipin Rawat made a quiet visit to the Sikkim border on December 2 and interacted with soldiers who were involved in the 73-day standoff with Chinese troops in Doklam sector. The faceoff ended on August 28 after both sides agreed to pull back their troops and China halted work on a road that triggered the row.
China had accused India of trespassing and preventing its troops from building a road on the remote Himalayan plateau. A repeat of the summer standoff cannot be ruled out.
In September, a reputed defence think tank observed the Doklam standoff was likely to be the new normal, and made a strong case for building up military capabilities as China respects strength.
In a paper titled “Looking Beyond Doklam”, the Centre for Joint Warfare Studies, a think tank set up by the defence ministry a decade ago, said it is crucial for India to demonstrate strength as peace along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) will be “constantly and continuously” under stress with “increase in frequency, intensity and depth of (Chinese) transgressions leading to more and more standoffs”.
In September, Rawat had warned that China was taking over territory in a gradual way and testing India’s threshold. He also warned against China’s “salami slicing” strategy – a reference to a string of small actions performed clandestinely to produce a larger effect that would be difficult to accomplish in one go.