1,000 Chinese soldiers reportedly still in Doklam a month after border stand-off ended
Patrols and road-building teams continue to operate in disputed region in Himalayas, but analysts say it’s just business as usual
About 1,000 Chinese soldiers are reported to be still deployed in a disputed border region in the Himalayas that was the scene of a 10-week stand-off between India and China.
Despite the conflict on the Doklam plateau having supposedly been brought to an end in early September, Indian troops remain on high alert because of the presence of the Chinese force, The Indian Express quoted unnamed Indian government sources as saying.
The Chinese troops are stationed just a few hundred metres from the conflict site, but their presence is not likely to trigger another “flashpoint” between the two nations, the report said.
New Delhi Television reported that the Chinese troops were still working on a road project in the area – which was the spark cause of the stand-off – but that there were no indications they were planning to stay permanently.
China’s defence ministry did not respond to requests for comment on the media reports.
Beijing-based military expert Zhou Chenming said, however, that the Chinese soldiers were almost certainly in the area to carry out infrastructure construction work.
“The PLA [China’s military] has a base not far from the site of the stand-off and several hundred soldiers are stationed there,” he said.
“Usually they have work to do in the region, like building roads, so that is what they are probably doing as there is still some time before the snowy season.”
Tensions between China and India rose significantly after the pair became embroiled in a stand-off on the remote plateau in June. The conflict, in an area claimed by both Beijing and Bhutan, an ally of India, lasted for 73 days until the two sides withdrew their troops – or at least claimed to – in early September.
The move came just days ahead of an emerging market nations’ summit in southeast China, which was attended by both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In talks with Modi on the sidelines of the event, Xi said the two countries should work to put their bilateral ties back on track.
On conclusion of the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa – summit on September 5, all Indian soldiers returned to their regular bases in the Doklam area, The Indian Express report said. However, the Chinese military did not dismantle any of their tents or temporary structures in the area and, as a result, they are now back under the surveillance of the Indian Army, it said.
The report came after Indian Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa told a press conference on Thursday that Chinese troops were still stationed in Chumbi Valley in the Doklam area.
India Today quoted him as saying that he hoped they “will withdraw in future after their exercises are over”.
Long Xingchun, a South Asian affairs expert at China West Normal University in Sichuan, said that the presence of Chinese troops in Doklam did not necessarily mean that Beijing had gone back on its promise.
“What Beijing agreed with New Delhi was to suspend road building in the region and disengage from the hostile stand-off.” he said.
“That didn’t mean that Chinese troops would leave the region forever.”
Beijing still claims the disputed border area, he said.
“Chinese soldiers will continue to patrol in Doklam,” Long said. “What changes from time to time is their number.”
Rajeev Rajan Chaturvedy, a research associate at the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, agreed, saying that the stand-off had ended, but not China’s military presence in the area.
“There is a heavy presence of Chinese troops a few hundred metres away from the site of the stand-off, and they are likely to remain at least until the winter,” he said, adding that the troops were widening roads in the area and conducting regular patrols.
“I don’t think there has been any change at the Doklam stand-off site, as India still won’t allow any road construction work in the disputed territory,” he said.
“However, I don’t see there being another stand-off, as this time the Chinese troops are stationed a bit further back from the conflict site,” Chaturvedy said.
“And with the [Communist] party congress set to start in a few days, I don’t think the PLA [China’s military] will want to cause any tension.”
Rohan Mukherjee, an Asian affairs expert at Yale-NUS College in Singapore, said that despite the disengagement of troops in Doklam, Beijing’s territorial claims and ambitions in the regions were unaltered.
“The stand-off was resolved because of the political situation at the time,” he said. “China had to be seen to be de-escalating the conflict because of the BRICS summit. If it had persisted, Modi would simply have avoided it, and without India there can be no BRICS.”
It was also no surprise that Chinese troops were still visible in the region, Mukherjee said.
“The agreement between India and China was for a disengagement from the site of the stand-off. The fact that Chinese soldiers remain on the plateau is not surprising. If anything, the dispute has strengthened China’s resolve to maintain its position in the region and not lose face.”