Nathu La/New Delhi: In disputed Doklam, Army officers from India and China meet for tea every morning — in keeping with the Wuhan ‘spirit’ along the contentious Line of Actual Control (LAC) that will come under review when Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Chinese President Xi Jingping later this month in Mamallapuram in Tamil Nadu.
“Come hail, snow or rain, the two Colonels (Indian and Chinese) have to meet for tea at 8.30 every morning in Doklam,” said a senior government official.
The Wuhan summit in April 2018 between Modi and Xi identified a series of steps — the meeting over tea being one of them — to de-escalate tensions between both the countries’ military and ensure that differing perceptions of LAC do not result in physical skirmishes.
The summit took place after the over two-month-long military stand-off between India and China in the Bhutanese territory of Doklam Plateau in 2017 that threatened peace in the region with both sides stepping up their military presence in the area.
The Wuhan ‘spirit’ continues to thrive at the LAC, all along the eastern and the northern sectors, and is said to be the primary reason why the scuffle in Ladakh last month was resolved in less than 24 hours.
“Following the Wuhan summit, the leadership of both the countries gave directions to prevent another Doklam type situation. A number of steps have been taken on this front,” a top official told ThePrint.
Multiple sources ThePrint spoke to gave details of the steps taken that would come under review when the two leaders meet. It is expected that the two countries may come up with new steps too.
Besides the daily morning meeting in Doklam, changes have also been made in the patrolling strategies, said the sources.
‘Chai pe charcha’
Sources told ThePrint that since the Wuhan summit in April last year, the Colonel commanding the Doka La post of the Indian Army walks a few metres into the Doklam Plateau along with a few of his officers.
Similarly, the Chinese Colonel, who retreated about 200 metres from the stand-off point in 2017, walks along with his officials.
“They sit down and talk for about 15-20 minutes. They express any concerns that they have and both take into consideration the views expressed,” said a senior official who did not wish to be named.
Asked if there has been a day since the Wuhan summit when this moment of ‘chai pe charcha’ has not happened, he said, “Come hail, snow or rain, the two Colonels have to meet for tea at 8.30 every morning.”
The official also explained that there have been times when the Indian side has informed the Chinese Colonel about concerns pertaining to other sectors along the LAC.
“The Chinese Colonel first said it does not come under his area of responsibility. He was told that this is something that high command in the Indian Army wanted him to inform his seniors in the PLA (People’s Liberation Army). The message then traveled through the PLA hierarchy and concerns were addressed. Similarly, they express their concerns,” the official added.
New patrolling strategy
Due to differing perceptions of the LAC, soldiers from both sides patrol areas that they think is under their jurisdiction. This has often led to physical scuffles.
To prevent this, both sides now try and ensure that they don’t patrol a particular area at the same time, a source said.
Both sides know each other’s patrolling schedules and patterns, and, therefore, steps are being taken to ensure that they don’t patrol similar areas at the same time, the source added.
“The focus is on observing what the other side is up to. Indian soldiers also patrol (areas) what China thinks is their area but we consider as our own. As long as neither side is setting up any structures, it is fine,” another source said.
The source also pointed out that even when both sides come face-to-face, soldiers have been told to keep their tempers down and peacefully resolve the matter.
“The side concerned puts up banners and tells the other party that they are in the wrong territory. In case of any major issue, senior officials are contacted at the local level and the matter is resolved on the same day,” the source added.