1.June , 2017 face -off between Indian and Chinese troops :
The Indian and Chinese troops have been locked at Doklam near Sikkim for almost a month now in what has been the longest such impasse between the Indian and Chinese armies since 1962.
Doklam, or Donglong as the Chinese call it, is as per Bhutan and India the tri-junction border of India, China and Bhutan and is the flashpoint of the conflict between the Asian giants.
"India is deeply concerned at the recent Chinese actions of construction of road south of Doklam and has conveyed to the Chinese government that such construction would represent a significant change of status quo with serious security implications for India," an External Affairs Ministry statement said in New Delhi.
The face-off of last month is the latest incident in the tense Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction. The catalyst for it seems to be India’s objection to China’s construction of a road in the Doklam plateau that can take the weight of military vehicles weighing up to 40 tonnes. While India alleged that Chinese troops entered the area “unilaterally” and “would represent a significant change of status quo with serious security implications for India,” China claimed the area to be its territory and regarded the construction as “just and lawful.”
Gravity of the situation has culminated in Indian Defence minister Arun Jaitly stating that this is not 1962 when China overpowered India without any warning and occupied its land.
To guess Chinese agenda in the area one has to know the strategic importance of the area surrounding it. Most important strip of land of strategic importance is Siliguri corridor near it.
2. About Siliguri corridor :
India’s North East is geographically isolated from the rest of India and is connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land called the Siliguri Corridor, which is about 200 km long and 60 km wide. At its narrowest, it is just 17 km wide. The corridor extends from the Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Terai areas of West Bengal towards the North East. The region is important for trade, commerce and tourism for West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. All land trade between the North East and the rest of the country happens through this corridor.
The corridor is the hub of a rail and road network ( with National Highway NH 17) connecting West Bengal and the rest of India to the North East, including Assam, Nagaland and Sikkim. It is also the hub of railway network that connects to the strategic military formations along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
From the New Jalpaiguri (NJP) railway station, different rail links emerge to connect the three important military formations located right opposite China.
From the NJP station, a rail link moves towards Guwahati in Assam. It is from here that a road network moves towards the strategically important Tawang town in Arunachal Pradesh, according to experts and officers who have served in the region. The Line of Actual Control (LAC) separating India and China is merely 25 km away from Tawang. This road and rail network provides essential supplies to the Indian Army’s 4 Corps (having a strength of about 60,000 troops) responsible for the defence of Tawang district.
From the NJP station, a rail link also heads towards Dimapur in Nagaland and Dibrugarh in Upper Assam. From here roads move towards the rest of Nagaland and western Arunachal respectively. This network serves the Army’s 3 Corps, also consisting of the same number of men as 4 Corps.
The railway network also caters to requirements of 33 Corps, which has its military formations based in Sikkim.
This Sliguri corridor is also mcalled The Chicken Neck.
The corridor is squeezed between Bangladesh in the south and China in the north. India’s borders with Bhutan and Nepal also abut the corridor. It would thus be in India’s security interests to ensure it remains open.
All land transportation between mainland India and its far northeastern states uses this circuitous corridor, as there is no free-trade agreement between Bangladesh and India. The Tatulia Corridor, an alternative to the Siliguri Corridor, is proposed under Article VIII of the India–Bangladesh Trade Agreement 1980, which states that "The two governments agree to make mutually beneficial arrangements for the use of their waterways, railways and roadways for commerce between the two countries and for passage of goods between two places in one country through the territory of the other". However, the proposal is still in the initial stages of negotiation.
Hence passage of trade of India with Bangladesh and India with Bhutan are through this Siliguri corridor only.
3.Chinese Infrastructure in Doklum Plateau :
Here is a more important point. India and China have always been at loggerheads with each other over the demarcation of the LAC. Besides having fought the 1962 war, troops from both sides engage in numerous incursions and face-offs every year due to the “differing perceptions of the LAC”.
For the past three decades, China, unlike India, has consistently built its border infrastructure including railway lines, strategic airfields and roads that can bear the weight of heaviest vehicles, leading right up to the LAC. This is aimed at ensuring quick mobilisation of troops in the event of a possible conflict with India.
In addition to this, the road being constructed by China in the Doklam plateau will ensure that in a conflict it will block the Siliguri Corridor and cut off the North East. This would also lead to the cutting off of three primary military formations and their units, drastically reducing the supply of equipment and reinforcements to them.
4. Meeting point of Three Borders :
The Doklam plateau is the area where boundaries of Bhutan, India and China meet. Bhutan believes the tri-junction is at a place called Doka La, which is located in the middle of the Doklam plateau. Doka La is a pass in the Sikkim sector, which is guarded by the Indian Army. Following India’s objections to the Chinese road construction in Doklam, Chinese troops had entered Doka La and destroyed few Indian bunkers, leading to the face-off.
China contends that the tri-junction is located at a place called Gamochen, a few kilometres south of Doka La. According to army officers who have served in the region, China already has a road near Doka La and wants to extend it further south towards Gamochen, which is guarded by Indian troops. Gamochen is also the starting point of the Jampheri Ridge, which belongs to Bhutan. China building a road towards Gamochen would not only amount to intrusion into Bhutan’s territory, but also a security threat for India as it would bring the Chinese closer to the Siliguri Corridor.
5.Chinese Agenda :
The goal of the Chinese action is to shift the tri-junction to Gamochen, which it is doing in the name of constructing a road in the disputed territory. China lays claim to the strategic Doklam plateau to threaten Indian defences in Sikkim and deter possible Indian foray into the Chumbi Valley (adjoining the Doklam plateau). The valley can provide China a launch pad to progress operations into the Siliguri corridor.
China’s strategic assets near the Doklam plateau have increased over the years with the upgrading of the road from Lhasa to Yadong (near the plateau), which allows the 500 km journey to be made in just seven hours. China is also working on extending the Beijing-Lhasa high-speed railway line to Yadong, and is expected to begin test runs in less than two years. This enhances China’s military logistics in the region opposite the Siliguri Corridor. If the road in Doklam is connected to Yadong, it would add to the enhancement in China’s capabilities in choking the corridor.
6. Strategic Point In Favour Of India in case of military engagement:
However, experts point out that China’s road and rail network in the Chumbi Valley will be very vulnerable to artillery shelling and air attacks from either Sikkim or Bhutan. Therefore, if China blocks the Siliguri Corridor by sending its army on the road it plans to construct in Doklam, it may not be able to sustain itself for too long. Also, the force levels that China will have to commit for operations in this sector will be at the cost of operations in other sectors.
“On both sides of Yadong and Doklam is India and Bhutan. If Indian aerial and artillery assaults are carried effectively on the Chinese supply lines easily identified in Chumbi valley stretched in a linear North-South direction, it would reduce PLA’s capabilities to fight,” said an officer.
Army officers who have served in the region point out that the current face-off is not unique. Such face-offs have happened several times in the past. Even in another area close by, Yangste in Arunachal, there are face-offs with Chinese troops on a regular basis.
7. Planned face -Offs.
“Such face-offs are on the agenda on the PLA Army. These form part of their annual forward area familiarisation programme and is done on a regular basis. In Yangste in Tawang district, such face-offs usually happen twice every year. They have to keep the border issue alive,” explained an officer. It could be noted that most of such activities occur when the Indian leadership is involved in ‘positive’ diplomatic activity with nations inimical to China’s interests.
Despite all these explanations of the face-offs, India still has to worry about China trying to construct a road in Doklam and how it could affect the Siliguri Corridor.