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China & Bhutan close to striking Doklam deal, holding line could become working boundary

2 years after tense India-China stand-off at Doklam plateau, Bhutan could agree to let China hang on to territory it has already captured.

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New Delhi: In a development that could cause concern to India, its neighbours China and Bhutan are close to striking a deal on the Doklam boundary dispute. The Chinese holding line in the contentious region is likely to become the working boundary between the two, ThePrint has learnt.

This means China will be successful in its “salami slicing” of Doklam, since it will hold on to the territory it has already captured.

“China and Bhutan are working out something with regard to their dispute in the Doklam plateau. The status quo is being maintained and both sides (India and China) are holding on their positions as per the de-escalation move,” a top government official told ThePrint.

Another government official in the know said: “Both Bhutan and China have held over 25 rounds of discussions regarding their border disputes. We really don’t know exactly what is happening, but it seems the holding line will become some sort of a working boundary.”

This holding line is about 10 km from the nearest camp in Chinese territory.

The officials pointed out India’s past stand — that it hopes neighbouring countries that are in discussions with a third country would take into account India’s concerns.

Also read: ‘Chai pe charcha’ in Doklam — daily ritual for Indian, Chinese troops now to ease tensions

The face-off in Doklam

India considers the Doklam plateau as an undisputed part of Bhutanese territory, but China considers it as an extension of its Chumbi valley, the wedge of land that lies between Sikkim and Bhutan. The plateau is approximately 89 square km, with a width of less than 10 km.

Over the years, China captured small pieces of territory in Doklam, and had started building a road. In 2017, it started constructing a road headed to the strategically important Jampheri ridge-line.

“We had to step in and stop it because this road would have given the People’s Liberation Army easy access and clear line of sight to the Siliguri Corridor,” said the first official quoted above. The Siliguri Corridor, colloquially known as the ‘chicken neck’, is a narrow tract of land that connects the entire Northeast to the rest of India.

On 18 June 2017, several companies of the Indian Army stepped in to form a human wall to prevent Chinese earth excavators and workers from carrying out construction activities.

The stand-off lasted for over two months, which increased regional tension and was closely monitored by global powers. It finally ended with China agreeing to not construct the road and moving back by 200 metres, while India moved back to the Dokala Post that it has maintained for the last several years. This is the holding line that could now become the working boundary.

Also read: Near Doklam, China is again increasing forces, building roads & even a possible heliport

Bhutan’s position

In an interview to The Hindu in June this year, Bhutan’s Prime Minister Lotay Tshering called for China to maintain status quo in the Doklam region, saying “no side” should do anything “unilaterally” near the tri-junction point between India, China and Bhutan.

Just days prior to the PM’s interview, his minister in-charge of border disputes visited the Doklam plateau and even spent a night in a Chinese camp.

This move was closely monitored by the higher-ups in New Delhi, and gave an inkling that something was cooking between the two countries.

Also read: China has quietly altered its boundary with Bhutan after Doklam stand-off with India


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  1. Hello Indian readers, we bhutanese very well know about China overtaking Tibet and it’s loan policy of debt trap. We are very much aware of it but on other hand we will not forget about Sikkim and how it was Taken by India. China no question is hungry for land but India was a long trusted friend of Bhutan until india meddled in Bhutan’s election, hydro power debt increased more than 120% due to negligence of India taking fake soil sample of project site and not allowing third party to intervene, subjugating Bhutan in monopoly business plan and insulting bhutanese ministers in Indian parliament and failing to atleast say sorry.Yes India do provide us aid in fact largest aid in our five year plan but that Dosent mean India will treat Bhutan like Indian state. If you think Bhutan is like a playing card then will show both India and China how to play the card.

    • Choice is between ego, sovereignty and existence as an independent state. Tibet has been completely taken, strategic parts of Nepal annexed by Chinese, now Bhutan can allow salami sliced territory to be retained by the Chinese. Big difference between Indian annexed Sikkim (for strategic reasons) and Chinese annexed Tibet. If push comes to the shove, Bhutan should be able understand whether the Uighurs, Tibetans, inner Mongolians have a better deal within China or the Sikkimese within India. Enough said.

  2. Great news for peace and conflict resolution. Bhutan is no more a yam but a tiny strategically powerful country. Thanks to King IV & V. Their cousins Sikkim and Tibet already swallowed! Let’s not forget to see the Indian military in the heart of capital Thimphu and all strategic locations. We don’t know when and what they will do. Hopefully Bhutan Hgovernment will work out a Bhutan friendly treaty with India and China, ask GOI to withdraw Indian military from Bhutan or let PLA also make their base inside Bhutan.

  3. Dear Sir,
    We are poor in maintaining our diplomatic
    relations, China has proved it’s supremacy,
    Ashvin H.Shah

  4. Must hv diplomatic relations with china.but hv to beware….about their expansion policy.Tibet is an example… Good luck

  5. My dear Bhtaneese friends those who are talking about leaving India behind and move on with Modern China as new friend, good luck and when China will eat up your nation slowly by putting it in debt trap then who will be there to listen to your cries?? Don’t forget Tibet. Bhutan needs to take wise decision without Chinese influence else repent and cry later like other small nations

    • Before talking about China putting Bhutan in a debt trap, let’s look at the current situation. Bhutan has already been shackled in a sort of debt trap by India. It has been naively persuaded into borrowing millions of dollar from India for hydroelectric projects. These hydro electric projects aren’t going to be of much benefit to the average Bhutanese or the Bhutanese economy because Bhutan is contractually obligated to export most, if not all of the electricity generated from these projects to India. The rate at which the electricity is sold to India is decided by India in the end, and there are terms which only the allow the rates to be raised by a small amount(10%) every five years. On the other hand the loans which Bhutan has to pay back to India carry a much higher interest rate than the 2% than China charges Nepal, Sri Lanka and other countries that it lends money to for Infrastructure projects. China’s projects in other countries, be their airports, ports or road, benefit the average citizens in those countries. I am not sure we can say the same thing about this hydroelectricity projects in Bhutan. Also the hydroelectric projects like the recently opened Mangdechhu projects seem to be so poorly built, they are breaking down soon after they open.

      • @Ugyen, Srilanka parted away with a port to China because it could not pay back just 2% interest that China was levying for developmental assistance in building that port, with Chinese staff, meaning not even additional jobs in SL due to the port construction activity. Srilanka has no use of that port since Colombo port handles all their sea traffic and even to this day, Hambantota is a ghost port.
        On the contrary, Nepal took the same view as you are regarding the Hydro electric project. It went ahead and planned to build a hydroelectric plant with chinese money and chinese company. India flatly refused to buy the electricity thus generated, and neither did China agree to buy that electricity. I don’t know the current state of that project, you may check that out. The hydro electric project in Bhutan built by India is not just funded by India, but India is also guaranteeing the projects viability by assuring and buying the electricity thus generated. Thus the plant is NOT a debt trap.
        <Not looking to get into an endless debate, everything I have written here can be searched on Google/DDG/Baidu whatever you prefer.

        • Nitin, I am willing to concede those are all good points you make about the viability of the financing structure of the hydroelectricty projects in Bhutan. I personally think just with as with Hambota project, I think the jury is out on this one. I think my point still stands. This “either us or them” attitude India adopts as far as Bhutan’s relationship with China is not good for Bhutan, India or the long term prospects of Indo-Bhutanese relationship. If you know Bhutan and know Bhutanese people you will know that there is nothing suggest that just because Bhutan has better relation with China, they are going to turn against India. If anything a more prosperous Bhutan will only benefit India, whether it’s cars, gas oil, or food it’s all purchased from India. It’s mind boggling that Bhutanese airlines today aren’t allowed to start flying to any Chinese today even though there is demand .

    • Kush, Btw Nobody is talking about “leaving India “. Developing better relations with China doesn’t mean abandoning the solid relation India and Bhutan have.

  6. Bhutan cannot remain as it did for the last 7 decade. With the boundary demarcation in sight, there will less conflict and we can establish diplomatic relations as well as people.good will.
    Not talking to your neighbours is not a good indicator and leads to misunderstanding.

    For better neighbourly relations and peace in the future, I wish the Doklam .issue a speedy resolution.

  7. PM Modi needs to do more about Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
    Only Pakistan n China wont be enough – danger lurks everywhere n needs to be countered.
    Diplomacy is a complicated issue, it has sort of become more of giving rather than taking.
    But China the sly did it cunningly debt trapping several countries. The speed it is going, there will be a time China will be trapped.

  8. Mr. Asthana I do not know in which world you live ? If the Sucessive govt since Independence would have fortified the Indo China birder we would have e avoided this dispute.

    Until 2014 only 17 percent of border road were completed which gives us direct access to borders in this area nothing was done that’s why Chinese kept on capturing our territory. We had no choice except to bow out head.

    At least Modi made it clear that Chinese can not bully us. He deployed fighter jets n missiles on NE borders and made his intentions clear.

    Under Mr Mammohan n previous govt we did not even talk about it. Had it been MMS he would have given Doklam also .

  9. great news . as a bhutanese i rejoice .. Bhutan need closer relations with a modern country like China to develop its infrastructure using modern methods and technology instead of antiquated technology and methods as currently done by India.

  10. The fact is doklam is strategically important to india because of the chicken neck.
    Yet Modi has done nothing to fix the doklam issue in last 2 years.
    Also, Bhutan has seen that Modi is helpless, even though Modi is blustering in elections and fooling the indian public.
    So now its time for bhutan to finalize the issue, since Modi has no strength or capability to make any traction.

  11. This should give Modi’s credibility some jolt. The drama of last time will be exposed
    Every jolt he gets, however small, will help India to finally get rid of this evil empire.

  12. It is a matter of time before Bhutan, a sovereign country, expresses a desire to establish diplomatic relations with China. It had maintained a studied silence during the 73 day stand off. Difficult to recall the last occasion our diplomacy has flowered in South Asia.

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