Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) transgression beginning on 08 June 2017 into Bhutan’s Dolam plateau (also known as Doka La by India and claimed as Donglun by China), at the trijunction of India, Bhutan and Chinaheld Tibet, actually amounts to aggression and has resulted in a dangerous stand-off, continuing for almost two months, as this column is being written.
On the very next day, 09 June, when the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping met for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s summit at Astana, Kazakhstan, it was reported: “There was an understanding that where we have differences, it is important that differences should not become disputes”. But PLA’s actions on the ground belie such a spirit. First, it demolished two bunkers and then began constructing a road towards Doka La. The Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) tried to intervene but were pushed back. RBA then sought assistance of the Indian troops, who moved down the ridge and obstructed the construction work, leading to the standoff. Visuals on TV news networks of Indian soldiers relentlessly grappling with their PLA counterparts leave no doubt about their determination and great restraint.
In 1967, when PLA upped the ante at Nathu La, Sikkim, by mortar and artillery bombardment and direct fire, killing some Indian Army officers and soldiers, Ms Indira Gandhi sanctioned use of artillery requested for by the then Brigade Commander, Brig. M.M.S. Bakshi, MVC. The retaliation that followed, resulted in about 400 PLA troops being killed, a convoy of vehicles being destroyed and many bunkers being levelled. The message that 1962 cannot be repeated went to the Chinese very effectively. Also, in one fell stroke, Ms. Gandhi overturned the 1962 humiliation.
In 1986-87, China upped the ante again with a massive build-up in the Sumdorong Chu region, north of Tawang. Then Indian Army Chief Gen. Krishnaswamy Sundarji responded by launching Operation Falcon. The crisis was resolved without any exchange of fire.
However, while incursions by Chinese have continued in some form or the other, significantly, they have all been bullet-less for almost fifty years since the 1967 Sikkim skirmish — so far, at least. The titles of some essays by this writer over the past decade at least give a fair idea of the nature of the Sino-Indian relationship and characteristics of the Chinese government and the PLA in its conduct. These are: China punctuates dialogue with aggressive cross-border action, India’s Eastern Neighbour Fuels Insurgencies/China Supports (India’s) North East Terrorist Groups, China’s Dra’goon’ Diplomacy, India-China Relations — No Bullets On Borders Since 1967 and Trade With Tensions, Sino- Indian Relations Sourer Than Sweet, Chinese Checkers Redux, Chinese ‘Fingering’ in Sikkim. Chinese ‘Dadagiri’, Management of Sino-Indian Ties on Table and Terrain, Be Water-Wise With China and so on.
India’s long overdue infrastructural development in its North-Eastern region, expediting the building of hollow block bunkers along the Line of Actual Control, India’s refusal to take part in the One Belt, One Road summit organised by China, PM Modi’s visits to the US and Israel, India’s participation in the tri-lateral military exercise Malabar etc, have all peeved China. Since then, Beijing has issued a warning over India’s strategic infrastructure development along/near the LAC, especially in the north-east region several times. It is also certainly not happy about India raising a mountain corps with two divisions already. The construction of bunkers particularly, has been a flashpoint in Sino-India ties.
India expediting strategic infrastructural development along/near the Line of Actual Control, India’s refusal to take part in the One Belt, One Road summit organised by China, PM Modi’s visits to the US and Israel, India’s participation in the tri-lateral Exercise Malabar etc, have all peeved China. It is also certainly not happy about India raising a mountain corps with two divisions. China opposed the infrastructure development issue several times and the construction of bunkers particularly, has been a flashpoint in Sino-Indian ties. According to Claude Arpi, India-based French expert on India, China and Tibet, China’s pushing the envelope by starting to build a road in Bhutan, thinking that India would not defend Bhutan, was a wrong judgment by Beijing.