On June 16, 2017, Chinese road construction workers accompanied by Chinese troops began moving into the tri-junction of Doko-Lam where the borders of the three countries – India, China and Bhutan meet. Chinese authorities claim they were in the process of constructing a road within their territory.
The Chinese workers had also demolished an old bunker used by the Indian army at the tri-junction in Sikkim, after the Indian army refused to comply with a Chinese demand.
China claims that Indian soldiers had crossed the boundary and interfered with its road construction activities.
The entry of Indian troops into the disputed site led to jostling (chest bumping) between troops of the two countries, but did not escalate into a worse confrontation such as an exchange of blows or an exchange of gunfire.
Despite strongly worded statements, emanating from both sides it is unlikely the confrontation will escalate into armed confrontation.
India resumed trade with China in 1978. By 1984 the two sides signed a Most Favoured Nation Agreement. In 2000 trade volume between the two countries stood at US$3 billion.
Today, China is India’s largest trading partner, having, in 2008, displaced the US which used to be its biggest partner. According to a news release by the Indian High Commission in Beijing, India-China trade in the first four months of 2017 increased by 19.92% year-on-year to US$26.02 billion. India’s exports to China increased by 45.29% year-on-year to US$5.57 billion while India’s imports from China saw a year-on-year growth of 14.48 % to US$20.45 billion. In 2016, India was the 7th largest export destination for Chinese products.
There is little chance then for the two countries, so economically dependent on each other, to allow the confrontation go beyond anything verbal. It may also seem surprising the verbal confrontation has continued into its fifth week with seemingly no end in sight. Perhaps, this should not be surprising.
While attention has been focused on China’s growing claims in East Asia’s South China Sea and its disputes with Japan, Vietnam the Philippines, etc, for some time India has watched China’s expansion of influence in South Asia with growing unease.
China has been literally encircling India via a network of strategic maritime centres in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Maldives thus creating a security dilemma for India in the Indian Ocean region.
The new road which India and Bhutan claim encroaches on Bhutanese territory and close to the Indian territory known as the “chicken’s neck” -- a thin sliver of land -- which if any untoward military action took place, could effectively cut India off from its northeastern states as Chinese troops would now be literally breathing down India’s neck, which in turn has roused Indian suspicions and fears.
‘The Guardian’ quotes Ashok Malik, a fellow at the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation as saying, “This in fact is a provocative gesture which makes the defence of Doklam virtually the defence of India…”
The Chinese government however insists that its naval strategy is entirely peaceful in nature and is only for the protection of regional trade interests.
Daily Mirror, July 25, 2017