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Monday, Oct 21, 2019

Is Bhutan a key factor in Sikkim stand-off between China and India?

Beijing indicated that the Kailash Mansarovar yatra, a major confidence-building measure between India and China, will be used as leverage in the stand-off along the frontier in Sikkim.

world Updated: Jul 05, 2017 11:33 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times, Beijing
A few days ago, China didn’t allow a batch of Indians to go through the Nathu La pass on way to Mount Kailash, held sacred by the Buddhists, Hindus and Jains.
A few days ago, China didn’t allow a batch of Indians to go through the Nathu La pass on way to Mount Kailash, held sacred by the Buddhists, Hindus and Jains.(HT File Photo)

Bhutan could be the key to the ongoing China-India stand-off along the frontier in Sikkim, where troops from the two countries have accused each other of trespassing territorial borders, according to a Chinese expert.

China has accused Indian troops of disrupting the construction of a road in Donglang area of Yadong County of the Tibet Autonomous Region. Donglang is located at the narrow but strategically important tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan, with the three countries barely separated by mountains and passes.

Donglang or Doklam is also part of a border dispute between China and Bhutan. While the area is in China, Bhutan has claims over it. Thimphu doesn’t have diplomatic ties with Beijing and the dispute has persisted despite 24 rounds of negotiations.

With India and China giving conflicting versions of the incident, it is difficult to ascertain the exact sequence of events in the flare-up over the weekend.

A PTI report from New Delhi on Monday, quoting sources, said Indian and Chinese troops scuffled near Doka La area in the first week of June before soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) damaged bunkers on the Indian side.

China denied the allegation. “Indian troops recently crossed the border with China in an attempt to block a road construction in Donglang (Doklam) area by the Chinese side,” China's defence ministry said late on Monday night.

 Hu Shisheng, director of the Institute of South and Southeast Asia and Oceania Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told Hindustan Times: “Another confusing element (of the Nathu La incident) is that it (according to the Chinese side) is in a place called Donglang.

“But Donglang is a major issue between China and Bhutan, not between China and India,” he said when asked about the importance of Donglang. “It is located just at the junction among the three countries China, Bhutan and India.

“Why has this became an issue between India and China? If there is an accident or incident, it should be between China and Bhutan,” Hu said.

In India, the focus has been on the face-off between the two armies at Nathu La in Sikkim, the suspension of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra and resulting harassment of Indian pilgrims.

Chinese officials army at Nathula Pass.
Chinese officials army at Nathula Pass. ( HT File Photo )

If China was building a road in an area disputed with Bhutan, India would have been watching closely because of its strategic importance.

There is not much of a dispute between India and China in the Sikkim sector despite the unmarked border that stretches 3,488 km.

“After we recognised Sikkim as one part of India (in 2003), the two governments made sure that there were no problems. Not like the other parts of the border,” Hu said.

 Hu speculated it was possible Bhutan asked for India’s help in patrolling the area. “So, one thing is that Bhutan asking India to take the responsibility to patrolling on the border. We know that Bhutan is under the protection of India,” he added.

First Published: Jun 28, 2017 07:26 IST

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