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How a backup road to new Chinese watchtower may have triggered Doklam standoff

Indian army soldiers are seen after a snowfall at the India-China trade route at Nathu-La, 55 km north of Gangtok, capital of India's northeastern state of Sikkim, January 17, 2009. The Nathu-La mountain pass, known as the old silk route, lies at an altitude of 14,200 ft. bordering between India and China and is covered with snow throughout the year. Picture taken January 17, 2009.

Indian army soldiers are seen after a snowfall at the India-China trade route at Nathu-La, 55 km north of Gangtok, capital of India's northeastern state of Sikkim, January 17, 2009. The Nathu-La mountain pass, known as the old silk route, lies at an altitude of 14,200 ft. bordering between India and China and is covered with snow throughout the year. Picture taken January 17, 2009.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

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A widely read Chinese blog gives "an inside story" on the Doklam issue and says that China did not exercise actual control over the area till 2007.

China’s decision to complete the construction of a road to a watchtower in the Doklam area that it built in 2014 may have triggered the present standoff with India in the Sikkim section of the China-India border, says a widely read Chinese blog.

A write-up in WeChat blog “International Military Focus”, which appeared on July 14, points out that China, marginalising the Bhutanese military presence, began to gradually exercise physical control over the Doklam area only after 2007.

The posting is titled, “Important Inside story: How many people know the truth about Doklam conflict?”

WeChat is a popular Chinese instant messaging platform with an estimated 938 million users.

“Although Doklam has always been part of China, its total control of the area, according to some information, began only after 2007. Before that it was controlled by Bhutan. And this is the reality,” says the post.

The article then explains that though Doklam legally belonged to China, following the 1890 convention between Britain and China, the area was generally inaccessible. “It was like a no man’s land, where China did not exercise actual control. Later on, Bhutan set up watchtowers in the Doklam area and had the actual control.”

The blog says that in 2007, China destroyed two seasonal watchtowers set up by Bhutan. Seven years later, it set up the Zhecaochang watchtower, following two years of construction, on the base of the two destroyed Bhutanese watch towers.

Explaining the timing of the on-going standoff, the blog says “this time the very last section of road connecting to Zhecaochang watchtower was supposed to be finished.”

Besides, the possible destruction of two Indian watchtowers by China may have fueled New Delhi’s ire. “In combination with previous reports, it is possible that India had two watchtowers that were very close to the road. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) destroyed these two watchtowers in order to achieve the eventual completion of the road. That is why India became really unhappy.”

The blog also signals that without opening a second front against India in the 1965 India-Pakistan war, China did impose pressure on New Delhi along the China-India frontier, including the Doklam area.

“In 1965, in order to support Pakistan, China issued several official notifications; issued red lines to India, asking it to retreat from fortifications works in the China-Sikkim section, including the mountain area, where the conflict is taking place this time.”

Referring to the special ties between Bhutan and India, which proved critical in forcing a face-off, the article traces the extraordinary bonding between the two neighbours to the Dalai Lama’s hurried exit from Tibet to India.

“In the 1950s, when Tibet revolted and the Dalai Lama escaped into Bhutan, there were 6400 Tibetan monks that followed him. Many of them became the senior officials and political figures in Bhutan. The main pressure that Bhutan should accept these Tibetan monks comes from Indian authorities. This brought negative influence to the relationship between China and Bhutan. In 1959, the border trade closed off, and the commercial trade that has a long history was suspended.”

Firmly opposed to a war with India, which it acknowledges is militarily well prepared in the area, the candid write-up contrasts the current situation to the buildup of 1962 war, which it surprisingly states took “more than 10 years” to prepare.

Further it asserts that, “India does not possess the ability to invade our territory. India’s military move could be [based on] anger [or] triggered by jealousy, but [it] does not pose a real threat.”

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2020 11:05:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/how-a-backup-road-to-a-new-chinese-watchtower-may-have-triggered-the-doklam-standoff/article19324045.ece

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