The tense standoff between the two regional nuclear powers, India and China in the Doklam plateau situated in an area disputed between China and Bhutan which began in early June, has seen no breakthrough yet. With this prolonged aggression, alarm bells are ringing in both capitals. In the midst of this the following article will give you an insight into the current standoff and explain what is at stake in the current standoff. It all started with the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan sounding the alarm to India when Chinese soldiers accompanied with bulldozers and excavators started constructing a high mountain road in the disputed area. India responded to this call by sending in troops who stopped the construction of the road. What followed were video clips of Indian soldiers confronting their Chinese counterparts being aired on national television alongside the display of jingoism from melodramatic TV anchors in India. The Chinese media was not silent too, predominantly state controlled, newspaper editorials invoking international law and even going to the extent of calling the Indian foreign minister a liar!

One must pay heed to the background of this disputed area to understand the current standoff. The land in question spans 269 kilometers in western Bhutan which coordinates its relations with Beijing through New Delhi.  The dispute dates to contradictory phrases in an 1890 border agreement between two now-defunct empires, British India and China’s Qing dynasty, that put the border in different places. One gives Bhutan control of the area — the position that India supports — and the other China. This gives both the countries reasonable claims to the region.  Thus by making the road constructions, India and Bhutan claim that China has broken the status quo in the disputed region. India’s status quo claim arises from an agreement in 2012 where India and China agreed that the status of the disputed region would be finalized only through joint consultations between the two sides. With both sides refusing to withdraw their respective troops, academics and analysts are concerned that the current standoff may spiral into an armed conflict. In contrast, another strand of analysts believe that a negotiated settlement is the likeliest outcome.

It is also important to understand what is at stake for both sides in the current standoff. The southernmost part of the Doklam plateau slopes into the Silliguri corridor what is otherwise known as the “chicken’s neck” which connects the northeastern states to the rest of India. Further the current skirmish arose when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on a visit to the United States. Analysts argue that for the Chinese side it is not just about the road but a message about China’s ire at India building alliances with its adversaries in Asia, and with the United States. With the crucial Communist Party Congress (CPC) approaching this fall, it is highly unlikely that the Chinese troops would withdraw as such a retreat will make President Xi Jingping less resolute with Chinese border issues. A less resolute Xi would have a negative effect during the CPC. Thus it is also a matter of personal importance to the Chinese president. The world is concerned and we all know what is at stake in an armed conflict between two nuclear powers. It thus becomes important that policy makers settle this matter so as to avoid grimmer prospects.


Surya Rajkumar

Surya Rajkumar

Surya Rajkumar is a student of Law at the O.P. Jindal Global University. His interests include Indian geopolitics, international law and human rights. He has been published in various sources including the Oxford University’s Human Rights Blog.