A US Congresswoman has claimed that China has "quietly resumed" its activities in the Doklam area and neither Bhutan nor India has sought to dissuade it, an assertion that was denied by New Delhi on Thursday.
Congresswoman Ann Wagner made the claim during a Congressional hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee for Asia and the Pacific. During the hearing, she posed a question to a State Department official, Alice G Wells, on Beijing's actions in the Himalayan region and compared them with its manoeuvres in the disputed South China Sea.
Tensions between India and China reached their peak during a 73-day standoff in Doklam near Bhutan over Beijing's construction of a road in the area. The standoff ended after both sides agreed to disengage, and there have been no confirmed or official reports of China resuming any activities since then.
"Although both countries backed down, China has quietly resumed its activities in Doklam and neither Bhutan nor India has sought to dissuade it. China's activities in the Himalayas remind me of its south China Sea policies. How should our failure to respond to the militarisation of the South China Sea inform the international response to these Himalayan border disputes?" Wagner asked.
Wager did not elaborate on her claim of China resuming its activities.
In her response, Wells, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, did not directly refer to Doklam, but told Wagner and other lawmakers: "I would assess that India is vigorously defending its northern borders and this (the situation at the northern borders) is a subject of concern to India."
Wells said US looks to the Indo-Pacific strategy put forward by the Trump administration in light of the 'South China Sea's Strategy', a reference to China's aggressive claims of sovereignty over all of South China Sea. Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan have counterclaims.
"How do we maintain the region to be open, to have maritime security, to not have militarisation that would imperil the 70 per cent of global trade?" Wells said. "We need to do that by giving authority to sovereign nations to have choices in how they develop, to have choices in their partnerships," Wells said.
In New Delhi, Minister of State for External Affairs Ministry V K Singh told Rajya Sabha on Thursday that there have been no new developments at the site of the face-off with China in Doklam and its vicinity, and status quo prevails in the area.
"Since the disengagement of Indian and Chinese border personnel in the Doklam area on August 28, 2017, there have been no new developments at the faceoff site and its vicinity. The status quo prevails in this area," Singh said in a written reply to a question on whether China has constructed new roads in the southern part of the Doklam Plateau.
In a statement later, Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Raveesh Kumar repeated Singh's comments.
Although the Congressional hearing was to discuss the Trump administration's budget request for the financial year 2019 for South Asia, the sub-committee chairman, Congressman Ted Yoho, raised the issue of China's aggressive posture in South Asia.
"What are your thoughts on what is the best way to counter China in that region?" Yoho asked.
US should not be seeking to compete with China dollar for dollar, Wells responded.
She added that instead of a state lending on terms that may not be to the benefit of countries or their citizens, the US and its companies are providing USD 850 billion in foreign direct investment in the region, which is far more than what has been injected by China.
"We're trying to gather like-minded countries who can bring resources to the table, who can coordinate assistance and an effort so as to provide countries with meaningful alternatives," Wells said.