After over two months of a military standoff, India “almost” completed the process of pulling out its border personnel from the Doklam plateau region in Bhutan near the India-China-Bhutan tri-junction area even as both sides maintained the 2012 status-quo.
Just a week before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) announced on Monday that it has begun “expeditious disengagement” of its troops from the area and that both sides have agreed that the contentious issues of the boundary must be “scrupulously respected.”
“India has always maintained that it is only through diplomatic channels that differences on such matters can be addressed … India’s policy remains guided by the belief that peace and tranquillity in the border areas is an essential pre-requisite for further development of our bilateral relationship,” the MEA statement said.
New Delhi also said it looked forward to a “continuing engagement” with China and that the bilateral relationship should remain stable.
On the other hand, the Chinese government maintained while Indian troops have pulled back, the People’s Liberation Army continues to patrol on the Chinese side of the boundary.
This very statement from the Chinese government indicated that it had agreed not to construct the road, which was India’s main concern, leading to maintaining the status-quo on the tri-junction area of the Line of Actual Control that agreed between both sides in 2012.
“Diplomatic communication between the two seemed to have yielded results and both have arrived at an understanding of mutual disengagement,” said Lt. Gen. SL Narasimhan, Member, National Security Advisory Board.
While it is still unclear if India intervened at the behest of Bhutan, the strategic implications of building a road there by the Chinese would have compromised India’s security.
The status quo that China probably wanted to alter was that the tri-junction lies at Gyemochen or Gipmochi, while India maintains that the tri-junction is located at Batang-La pass near the India-China border in the Sikkim sector.
Sources told BusinessLine that while India looked for a compromise so that it can be part of the BRICS enabling Modi’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Chinese sought a face-saving measure so as to report it back to the Communist Party Congress, which is scheduled to be held around October-November.
“It appears to be a compromise for both sides. The Chinese get the Indians to withdraw their troops and India get to stop the Chinese from building the road,” said Nandan Unnikrishnan, Vice-President of ORF, a foreign policy think-tank.
The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China is most likely to grant another five-year term to President Xi. According to sources, India is also believed to have admitted to the Chinese interlocutors that its troops did enter Doklam from the India-China border rather than from the Bhutan side.
All eyes are now on the meeting between Modi and Xi who are expected to meet separately on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit.