Less than a week before Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to land in China to attend the BRICS Summit, India and China on Monday agreed to end the over two-month long military stand-off in the remote Doklam plateau.
Officially, neither Beijing nor New Delhi claimed victory. Both sides said they expected the other to maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas.
If Beijing insisted that Doklam, or Dong Lang as the Chinese call it, “is part of Chinese territory and has been under Chinese rule for a very long time”, it was silent on whether it would continue with its road construction plan in the area. It said the Chinese army would continue to patrol the area.
If the Chinese state media trumpeted the development as a win for Beijing, the narrative from New Delhi was that India had dug in its heels on the question of road construction, and its stand is set to increase its prestige in its extended neighbourhood where several of China’s neighbours in the Asia-Pacific region are concerned at its increasing aggressiveness.
The Doklam area, near Sikkim, is claimed both by China and Bhutan. Indian and Chinese troops have been locked in a stand-off in the area since June 16, when about 300 Indian troops, with two bulldozers, stopped the Chinese army from building a road in the disputed area.
At 12 noon, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) released its first statement on “Doklam disengagement understanding”. It said New Delhi and Beijing had maintained “diplomatic communication”, and were able to express their views, concerns and interests.
“On this basis, expeditious disengagement of border personnel at the face-off site at Doklam has been agreed to and is ongoing,” the MEA said. Indian Army sources said the process to withdraw troops — India had deployed about 350 Army personnel in the area — from Doklam, was underway. In its second statement issued around 6.30 pm, the MEA said the process was almost completed.
Later in the day, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying stressed Indian troops had withdrawn from the region, but declined to go into questions if this was part of a mutual understanding between the two neighbours.
According to a PTI report from Beijing, the spokesperson, after repeated questions, said: “I can tell you that China will make adjustments with the situation on the ground.” But the spokesperson did not elaborate.
The PTI report said Hua was also conspicuously silent about whether China would proceed with the building of the road in Doklam. India had set the precondition that its troops would withdraw only if status quo is maintained.
The spokesperson also said the Chinese government “valued its neighbourly friendship with India”, expects India to work with China to safeguard peace and stability in the border area on the basis of mutual respect of each other’s territorial sovereignty.
Sources in New Delhi said India had never objected to Chinese army patrolling the area, but to road construction. However, it has pointed out to a 2012 agreement between New Delhi and Beijing that had barred construction of a road.
In its second statement on Monday evening, the MEA seemed to indicate that it might have scored a diplomatic victory since it stood its ground and forced Beijing to resolve the dispute through diplomatic channels and without bloodshed.
The BRICS summit, that brings together Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, will be held in the Chinese city of Xiamen from September 3-5. India and China would now need to work on reviving previous mechanisms at a senior level to resolve border disputes.
The Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) welcomed the disengagement at Doklam.