The Doklam standoff is far from over – Claude Arpi

China flag Indian soldier

Claude ArpiIt is obvious that the Doklam page has not been turned; for example, as the Indian foreign secretary landed in Paro to take stock of the relations with Bhutan, there are persistent rumours that the PLA has massed troops in the Chumbi valley, north of Doklam. – Claude Arpi

Post-Doklam, many observers, whether in the defence services or government circles, have been thinking “what could China do next to put India in its place”. Of course, Luo Zhaohu, the Chinese Ambassador in India, spoke of “turning the page to a new chapter”. Can India believe him?

In an op-ed in a national newspaper, Luo says that the outcome of the August BRICS Summit in Xiamen (China) went beyond his expectations: “An important consensus has been reached to enhance mutual trust, focus on cooperation, and manage differences.” Luo even quotes the Chinese President: “The dragon and elephant should dance together.”

Luo is lucky that the Indian media is “Alzheimerish” and has already forgotten the nasty words used by Chinese officials against Indian leaders during the Doklam episode.

Chinese woman

Incidentally, how could Beijing have engaged in this misadventure without a sort of “clearance” from its man on the spot (in India)? On its part, China has not forgotten the standoff on the ridge near the tri-junction. While the Ambassador speaks of “turning a page”, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) cancelled the ceremonial border personnel meetings (BPM) to mark China’s National Day on October 1.

Several times every year, the PLA and the Indian Army meet at five designated Border Personnel Meeting (BPM) points along the 3,488-km long Line of Actual Control (LAC).

Local commanders meet their Chinese counterparts to sort out differences on local issues, but also get to know each other. This is an excellent confidence building measure during which “gifts” such as cigarettes, liquors, etc, are exchanged. The fact that it was not held on October 1 shows that the PLA is not ready to close the chapter.

But that is not all: the annual joint exercise between the Indian Army and the PLA will not be held in 2017. Called “Hand-in-Hand”, it was held in Pune last year. Again a good CBM cancelled. In March 2017, Delhi wrote to Beijing to start the initial planning process; no answer from China.

China has also not provided data for the Sutlej and the Yarlung Tsangpo as per the agreement signed by the two countries. Some vague excuses have been given for not doing so. In this morose context, an incident took place in Dharamsala, the hometown of the Dalai Lama in Himachal Pradesh.

According to the police complaint, on October 1 (incidentally, the Chinese National Day), a Chinese woman—a long-term guest in India—holding a US passport, physically assaulted a Tibetan woman, “hurled verbal abuses and also vandalising a part of the photo exhibition near the Dalai Lama’s temple, in McLeod Ganj.”

Physical assault

A Dharamsala-based Tibetan NGO called Gu-Chu-Sum, started by former Tibetan political prisoners, had organised the photo exhibition to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1987 Tibetan unrest. According to the complaint: “While hundreds of foreigners, tourists and local people visited the exhibition, this Chinese woman, Ms Zhu Wenqi, 44, objected to the photo exhibition saying these photos insult China.”

She attacked Namgyal Dolkar Lhagyari, a member of the Tibetan Parliament and Gu-Chu-Sum president when the latter tried to pacify her; the correspondent of Voice of America who was filming the scene was hit in the face by Zhu. Though there is no proof that the Chinese lady is linked to the regime in Beijing, the attack, however, raises serious issues.

Troop movement

First for the Dalai Lama’s security: Are all the followers of the Tibetan leader properly screened? Second, how did Zhu get a five-year visa to “study” in India? Even presuming that she was a genuine “student”, is there a way to keep a tab on all “Buddhists” and other seekers gravitating around Dharamsala? How far is the Himachali town infiltrated by Chinese intelligence?

Whatever the results of the inquiry, Delhi needs to realise that the Chinese “answer” to Doklam may not be visible on a mountain ridge in Arunachal Pradesh or Ladakh, but may be “asymmetric”. Today, it is obvious that the Doklam page has not been turned; for example, as Indian foreign secretary landed in Paro to take stock of the relations with Bhutan, there are persistent rumours that the PLA has massed troops in the Chumbi valley, north of Doklam. Delhi needs to remain fully alert and ready to tackle any situation, military or otherwise. – Daily-O, 11 October 2017

» Claude Arpi is French-born author, journalist, historian and tibetologist. He is the director of the Pavilion of Tibetan Culture at Auroville, Tamil Nadu.

North Sikkim

The Chinese brigade (about 3000 troops plus armoured vehicles, tanks, missiles) identified by The Print report is located 50 km from both the North Sikkim protruding thumb and the Doklam area. The brigade could be used to occupy either area in as little as two hours.

Chinese troops amassed near Doklam (Oct 2017)

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One Response

  1. No new developments at Doklam face-off site: MEA – Times of India – New Delhi – Oct 27, 2017

    NEW DELHI: The Ministry of External Affairs on Friday termed reports about an alleged Chinese build-up near the Doklam plateau as “mischievous.”

    “The status quo prevails at Doklam. Any report to the contrary is mischievous,” said MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar during his weekly media briefing.

    “This news report refers to alleged Chinese build-up well within China. There have been no new developments at the face-off site and its vicinity since the August 28 disengagement between the two countries,” Kumar added, in response to recent media reports about Chinese troop build-up a few kilometres from the Doklam plateau.

    When asked if Chinese President Xi Jinping’s order to the People’s Liberation Army to be “combat-ready” could be seen as a “provocative” statement in the context of the Doklam standoff, the spokesperson said that India hopes the “direction and policies set by Congress of the Communist Party contribute to peace and stability in the region.”


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