The Doklam Plateau, north of the tri-junction of Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet, by India's claim, is not just a disputed area, but has huge strategic significance for both India and China.
The few square kilometres of the plateau, which one officer familiar with the terrain calls “more a ledge than anything else” because of its steep mountains, is witnessing a stand-off between detachments of the Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) for the past few days. There have been several incidents that have culminated in the present situation, sources said.
In recent days, the Chinese are believed to have destroyed temporary bunkers of the Indian Army, while the Indian Army is accused of objecting to a road construction by the Chinese side on the disputed area. Finally, there was also an incident of jostling among the soldiers of the two sides.
Wedged between Bhutan, India and China are few areas of dispute — together accounting for just over 750 square kilometres. Among the disputed areas is Doklam (also called Donglang in China) , which is just about 90 square kilometres where the present dispute is taking pace.
For the Chinese to reach their border posts with Bhutan, Doklam provides an easy way to construct a road, and they have been trying to do so and India has consistently objected to it. Not very far from Doklam is the strategically important Chumbi Valley in the Tibetan region, to which Chinese are now planning to expand their rail connectivity.
The disputed area also provides, according to India's perspective, a bigger buffer to its sensitive Chicken’s Neck, or the Siliguri Corridor, which is an extremely narrow stretch of land that connects the Northeast to the rest of the country. From the Chumbi Valley it is just a little over 100 kilometres away.
“Maybe 20 years down the line, once we develop our border infrastructure on a par with the Chinese, we can be more welcoming of better connectivity and be relaxed about the dispute. Not for now,” an ex-Army officer with extensive knowledge of the India-China dispute said.