Deciphering the Doklam Standoff: The Context of the Contest

Published date01 December 2020
Date01 December 2020
Subject MatterArticles
1 Assistant Professor, Gangadhar Meher University, School of Political Science, Sambalpur,
Odisha, India.
Corresponding author:
Keshab Chandra Ratha, Assistant Professor, Gangadhar Meher University, School of
Political Science, Sambalpur, Odisha 768004, India.
Jadavpur Journal of
International Relations
24(2) 196–215, 2020
2020 Jadavpur University
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0973598420939685
Deciphering the
Doklam Standoff:
The Context of the
Keshab Chandra Ratha1
Geopolitical compulsions seem to be the prime mover bringing pressure
upon China’s hands in terms of the location and timing of the Doklam
Plateau military standoff, developing it gradually into a full-blown military
conflict and turning Sino-Indian relations into a stage of long-term stra-
tegic confrontation. India’s serious objections to CPEC passing through
disputed territory and its marked unwillingness to become a member
of China’s One Belt One Road arrangement pose a severest jolt to
Chinese strategic interests, showcasing a serious geopolitical setback to
China and its political and military superiority.
Geopolitics, standoff, warfare, diplomacy
Doklam standoff was one of the major military standoffs between India
and China in recent years. The face-off was in the tri-junction between
India, Bhutan, and China in the Sikkim sector of India–China Border.
Ratha 197
Since June 16, India and China were locked in a bitter standoff and
tensions mounted over. Geographically, the region is dangerously close
to a tri-junction point between the three nations, namely India, China,
and Bhutan. Both India and Bhutan objected to China building a road at
a point which is claimed by Bhutan and is close to India’s “Chicken’s
Neck” that connects the North-East to the rest of India. China’s attempt
to build a road through Bhutan posed a security challenge and worrisome
concern to India. Doklam has traditionally been a Bhutanese territory,
which currently China demands. In the Doklam incident, the Bhutanese
army had first tried to push out the Chinese army’s road building party.
Having failed, Thimpu called upon India to step in. India has centuries-old
relations with Bhutan and has a treaty obligation to come to its aid.
Bhutan has no diplomatic ties with China and it is supported militarily
and diplomatically by India. It was not India which went out first to
challenge China’s efforts to take over the Bhutanese territory by brute
force. It was the Bhutanese government which first issued the demarche
to the Chinese government.
The conflict came to surface after a construction party of the People’s
Liberation Army of China (PLA) entered the Doklam area and attempted
to upgrade or extend a dirt road unilaterally. It ensured its claims over
what is essentially a territory under dispute. A Royal Bhutan Army patrol
attempted to persuade the Chinese not to undertake this unilateral
activity, and when the latter said no to back down, the intervention of
Indian troops became necessary, and thus began a standoff between the
Chinese and Indian troops, throwing the region into unrest. In recent
days, the Chinese are believed to have destroyed temporary bunkers of
the Indian Army, while the Indian Army is accused of complaining about
a road construction by the Chinese side on the disputed area. Finally,
there was also an incident of jostling and exchange of blows between the
soldiers of the two sides. India says that both New Delhi and Beijing had
agreed in 2012 that the tri-junction points between India, China, and
third countries would be finalized in discussion with all the parties
concerned. China’s attempt to build a road in the region, hence, is a
unilateral action in contravention of the 2012 understanding. The
unilateral attitude of China gets a reflection in its argument of withdrawal
of Indian troops from the Doklam area is a “precondition” for any
meaningful dialogue.
While the 1890 treaty says that the line between Sikkim and Tibet
commences at Mount Gipmochi on the Bhutan frontier, it also says that
the boundary shall be the crest of the mountain range separating the

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