ThePrint reveals how a breakthrough in talks between India and China were achieved after 10 weeks of negotiations.
Pranab Dhal Samanta
Ten weeks of intense negotiations on three independent bilateral tracks, building on a thin line of convergence, is how the Doklam stand-off was ended.
For the record, Indian troops moved out first, but only after it became clear that China was not going back to road building either. ThePrint has learnt that three simultaneous conversations were on at all times: between India and China, India and Bhutan and between China and Bhutan.
A matrix for negotiations was drawn up, where it was decided that all points of contention will be discussed one-by-one.
But how did matters reach the negotiating table in the first place?
It all started in Hamburg where Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Chinese President Xi Jinping at the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) informal meet on the margins of the G-20 Summit. And believe it or not, even this India story has a Pakistani coincidence to it.
Modi was the last to shake hands with the Chinese President at the informal Hamburg meet in the first week of July. That was because the rest of the leaders at the meet were presidents. Being the only prime minister, by protocol, Modi would have to be the last.
This delay was important because India had consciously decided to take a last-minute call on whether or not to raise the Doklam issue with Xi at Hamburg. The decision was to be made on the basis of a careful reading of the political build-up until that precise moment.
India had tried this open-ended approach for the first time just a month with Pakistan at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meet at Asthana.
The decision to have a short exchange with Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif was taken at the last minute, based precisely on how the build-up happened. The Indian side came out feeling that this was a good way to deal with politically sensitive issues.
Dealing with Xi in Hamburg on Doklam fit this definition. So, when the PM shook Xi’s hand, insiders told ThePrint, he raised the issue almost soon after they were done with pleasantries. Modi told Xi that a solution ought to be found soon, reminding him of their conversation at the SCO, where both leaders had agreed to not let differences turn into disputes.
Those familiar with the details of the exchange said that the Chinese President was at first quiet, and then said that officials on both sides should talk.
And so, the talks started. All the talks took place through established diplomatic channels, which a source said, never went cold despite all the rhetoric from the Chinese side.
The negotiations, however, were tough and were on three broad lines:
- China questioned India’s sovereignty and brought up the first point of contest by way of its claim through the 1890 agreement on Sikkim. India put its understanding of history on table. There was a disagreement to the point and ended in deadlock.
- India then brought up the 2012 understanding between the Special Representatives that the trijunction would be resolved through an agreement between all three stakeholders – India, China and Bhutan. Beijing contested New Delhi’s interpretation. There was another deadlock.
- The third issue on the table was the disengagement and troop withdrawal from Doklam. Here there was some convergence, except that India wanted to be assured that no road building would take place. China wanted India to withdraw first without any pre-condition
Bhutan, on the other hand, had made it clear to China that it saw the road building activity as a transgression on Bhutanese sovereignty. Sources told ThePrint that the Bhutanese side at all times let its Chinese interlocutors know that such activity was not acceptable, especially in territory which was disputed.
To India, the message from Bhutan was equally clear: resolve this peacefully without much public outrage.
In this backdrop, sources said, India and China agreed to sidestep the first two points of contention and decided to focus on the disengagement at Doklam.
With Bhutan making its position on road building clear to China and the Chinese bulldozers having been moved out, India reached an assessment that no road building was going to take place for now.
China’s bigger objective to make the BRICS Summit in Xiamen in the first week of September a grand success provided to be the best diplomatic window to seal an understanding.
Beijing wanted a willing New Delhi at the table at Xiamen. India, on its part, was now willing to withdraw first from Doklam, confident that no road building was possible.
So, through a mutually agreed plan, India took the first step and withdrew its troops on Monday, thus bringing to end a 70-day stalemate.