“Is it your territory?” China’s state councillor Yang Jiechi bluntly asked national security adviser A K Doval on the presence of Indian troops at Doklam as the two met on July 27 in Beijing+ to make the first diplomatic stab at resolving the confrontation over the strategically crucial patch.
The sharp poser reflected the Chinese intransigence over changing the status quo+ at the trijunction of Bhutan, India and China by building a road through what India considers to be Bhutanese territory.
The toughness failed to faze Doval, who, according to sources here, is learned to have responded that the point of contention was not China’s territory either as it had been claimed by Bhutan. “Does every disputed territory become China’s by default?” sources quoted the NSA as having replied.
Doval asserted that the territory was part of Bhutan, and a treaty with the Himalayan kingdom obliged India to look after the latter’s security.
The NSA also stressed that Doklam was on the table during the several rounds of negotiations China has held with Bhutan to solve their border disputes, while reminding his interlocutor of Beijing’s offer to hand over to the kingdom 500 sq km in the north in exchange for Doklam.
He is learned to have argued that China’s claim over Doklam was not settled, and both sides should simultaneously pull back their troops to restore status quo.
The sharp exchange was followed by several rounds of negotiations between the two sides in Beijing in which foreign secretary S Jaishankar, along with India’s ambassador to China Vijay Gokhale, tried to hammer out a solution.
The talks had been okayed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping when they met in Hamburg on the sidelines of the G20 meeting+ on July 7. The meeting saw Modi telling Xi that the dispute should not be allowed to escalate and suggesting that negotiations be held at the NSA level.
Modi asked his team to explore ways for early resolution of the confrontation, the worst in many decades, saying differences should not be allowed to turn into conflicts as the two countries had a lot to gain from cooperation. At the same time, he sketched his bottomline very clearly. “India will not allow the status quo to be changed by force under any circumstance.
Any change must happen through negotiations and through mutual understanding,” the PM is learned to have emphasised.
The posture of restraint saw the Army being instructed to ignore provocations. “Even a single shot fired by an edgy soldier could have sparked a wider conflagration in such tense times,” said a senior officer as he expressed admiration for the Army leadership for enforcing compliance.