Archive for the ‘Bhutan’ category

Dispatch from Doklam: Indians Dig in for the Long Haul in Standoff with China

July 24, 2017

Dispatch from Doklam: Indians Dig in for the Long Haul in Standoff with China, Subir Bhaumik,  July 24, 2017

China live fire drill

As I travel up from eastern India’s Bagdogra airport to Gangtok and then to Indian army’s Nathang base near the fraught Doklam area, I count at least six military convoys heading in the direction of Sikkim’s border with China.

At Nathang, a few kilometres from Doklam in the now-famous “tri-junction” of Tibet, Bhutan’s Doklam plateau and Sikkim’s Chumbi valley, the theatre of the ongoing stand-off between Indian and Chinese forces , the build-up is even more palpable, even though vehicles carrying artillery pieces and light tanks slither through the night to avoid public attention.

New bunkers are being built, the ground is being mined to pre-empt Chinese attack, machine-gun nests are being placed at strategic points, and soldiers are performing battle drills at least twice a day. But restraint is still the buzzword.

India soldier stands guard at border crossing

“We are under clear orders not to exacerbate the tensions, so we won’t provoke a scuffle, certainly not a firefight, but we are ready for a suitable response if the Chinese get aggressive,” says a young captain of India’s famous “Black Cats” division at Nathang. The cheerful-looking captain, in his late 20s, can’t be named as he is not authorised to speak to the media. The media isn’t even supposed to be here. The Indian Army isn’t embedding reporters as yet.

Nathang serves as a base to reinforce India’s forward outpost of Lalten in the tri-junction. Lalten is located in higher ground that gives the Indians a clear view of the Chinese movements in Tibet’s Yadong zone that is part of the Chumbi Valley between Indian and Bhutanese hill territory. This part of the Chumbi Valley, at a height of 3,000 metres (9,800 ft) is likened to a broad dagger aimed at the so-called “Chicken’s Neck”, a narrow corridor that connects Indian mainland to its remote Northeast.

Chinese soldiers holding banner in Ladakh, India asking India to withdraw troops.

India is paranoid about the Chicken’s Neck for its potential vulnerability. But this is also where the Indian army has terrain and tactical advantages of higher ground and a clear vantage point in the event of a border clash. “It’s important for us to stop the Chinese here because if we fail, they will roll on to the Chicken’s Neck and can cut off our northeast,” says the captain.

At Lalten, says a lieutenant colonel, the Chinese troops crossed into Indian-held ground in June and smashed two bunkers built by the Black Cats. “We restrained our troops with some difficulty, we ensured nobody fired but we finally pushed back the Chinese physically.”

Chinese and Indian flags at Great Hall of the People in Beijing

The captain says the Indian army is determined to stop construction of the C40 road (capable of carrying a 40-tonne load) that the Chinese have been trying to build through Bhutan’s Doklam plateau from Yadong to connect to the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) forward post opposite Lalten.

Under its treaty obligations to Bhutan, India must come to the Buddhist kingdom’s aid in times of military need, and the Chinese efforts to build the road in this undemarcated region was seen as such a provocation. Bhutan joined India in boycotting May’s Belt and Road Summit in Beijing, which is said to have provoked China. Indian analysts believe the Chinese decided to start building the C40 road through Doklam after the summit to test India’s special relations with Bhutan.

“They are trying to show Bhutan who calls the shots in the Himalayas. So we have to ensure we are capable of defending Bhutan’s territorial integrity,” says Maj-Gen Gaganjit Singh, who commanded a division in India’s Northeast before retiring as the deputy chief of the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA). “We have to prove we can defend Bhutan and we are determined not to lose the current terrain and tactical advantage we have in Chumbi Valley.”

Chumbi Valley is among the few areas in India’s Sikkim state – adjoining the theatre of conflict – in the 3,500km-long disputed border between India and China.

After jettisoning its traditional, defensive “just-hold-the-border” strategy, India has spent the last four years raising a mountain strike corps of about 80,000 for a new limited offensive doctrine in the event of a war.

Young Buddhist monks in region of India near border with China.

“That worries the Chinese PLA, now that we have better infrastructure and a much better strategic airlift capability, with many advance landing grounds in the Himalayas for the newly inducted giant US-built transport aircrafts to operate from,” says Maj-General Apurba Bardalai, who has commanded the Indian Military Training Team in Bhutan and brigade formations in India’s northeast. “With every passing day, we are closing the gap with the Chinese in terms of capabilities.”

And that is exactly what may be fueling the hostilities. “Failing to build the road will undermine the PLA’s domination strategy in the disputed Himalayan border. It will pour water over Chinese attempts to draw Bhutan into its fold by undermining its special relations with India,” says Subir Dutta, a former Intelligence Bureau officer specialising in China.

India has called for resolving the issue through dialogue, but China insists the Indian army must pull back first. “But the moment we vacate our forward posts, the Chinese will build the road through Bhutanese territory. We can’t allow that,” says a brigadier at the Black Cats headquarters.

Mountain pass between India and China.

With so much at stake on both sides, a resolution is unlikely anytime soon. At least that’s what the Black Cats think. “We would love peace to return. We want normal relations with the Chinese in maintaining tranquillity on the border. But we are digging in for a long haul because there’s no let-up in the aggression on the other side,” says the brigadier, who also cannot be identified.

As I am speaking with the brigadier in a tent, the buzz of activity seems to be picking up outside. Soldiers constructing bunkers and building other fortifications try to complete their assignment, racing against time as the sun sets on a cloudy day. “Speed up guys,” barks an officer supervising the construction.

“We don’t want war, but we are prepared for it and this is not 1962. Diplomacy should work and normal relations should be restored, but we are not going to be cowed down by threats,” the brigadier says.

China conducted military exercises in Tibet just after the Doklam stand-off began and its official media has threatened teaching a lesson to the Indian army if it doesn’t pull back from Bhutanese territory.

“But those are routine exercises, so we are not perturbed,” says the brigadier. “We are not leaving Bhutan to its fate, come what may.”

Bhutanese graziers at Jigme Kesar nature reserve just behind the Doklam plateau, however, don’t seem to mind being left alone. “We don’t want war between two large armies like India and China. That won’t be good for Bhutan,” says grazier Pema Namgyal.

Fellow graziers nodded furiously in agreement.

Chinese Army Mobilizes Military Assets to Tibet Following Live Fire Drills

July 20, 2017

Chinese Army Mobilizes Military Assets to Tibet Following Live Fire DrillsSputnik News via Global Security org, July 20, 2017

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) mobilized thousands of ground vehicles and other military equipment as the standoff between Chinese and Indian troops near the disputed area of Sikkim continues, according to a report from the PLA Daily.

PLA Daily is widely considered the main outlet the Chinese army uses for external communications, LiveMint notes.

The report did not specify the exact date the military assets were relocated to Tibet but said it occurred at the end of June. The unspecified military “hardware” was transported via rail and conventional roads.

It’s not entirely clear where in Tibet the chess pieces have been placed. The report also failed to indicate whether the military equipment would be used in tandem with a Chinese battalion that recently completed drills in Tibet, China’s second-largest province.

Last weekend, the PLA conducted live fire exercises in the province. Video footage of the drills was broadcast over CCTV. Analysts said the move would show the people of China the government is ready to protect them in the event that the standoff becomes more heated and violent.

Reinforcing the western front with personnel and hardware makes it much easier for commanders to defend Chinese borders, Wang Dehua of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies told LiveMint on Wednesday. Offensive and defensive maneuvers are “all about logistics,” Wang said, and “now there is much better logistics support to the Tibet region.”

The dispute in Sikkim originated in mid-June when Indian troops stopped Chinese workers from building a road that Beijing said was on its territory. Bhutan claimed that the particular area where construction took place was actually its territory, and India sided with Bhutan.

The area where the road was being built is of significant strategic importance to New Delhi. A finished road could provide Chinese troops with an avenue to sever India’s access to its northeastern states.

A recent article in the Indian Defense Review argued that further espionage between India and China might actually be key to resolving the crisis. “The two countries are ignorant of each other’s strategies,” Nicolas Groffman wrote. As a result, suspicion is “taking the place of intelligence just when understanding is critical.”

Vasily Kashin told Sputnik China, however, that such activities ought to have strict limits if stabilizing effects are to be achieved. Intelligence operations would cross a critical threshold if “active intervention in the internal affairs or acts of sabotage” were used, Kashin emphasized.

While Nobody’s Looking, China And India Are Carrying Out A Real-Life ‘Game Of Thrones’

July 20, 2017

While Nobody’s Looking, China And India Are Carrying Out A Real-Life ‘Game Of Thrones’, The Federalist, July 20, 2017

(The article, dated July 20th, states, “Starting this week, India is holding naval exercises with the United States and Japan, a move viewed by observers as a show of force against China’s rising naval power.” However, the link provided, dated July 10th, states that “The Malabar exercises involving Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force and the US and Indian navies are taking place in the Bay of Bengal and will last until July 17.” Please see also, Malabar Exercise: India, US and Japan deploy its biggest carriers in show of force against China’s growing naval power at Warsclerotic. — DM)

The Asian version of the conflict between House Lannister and House Stark is playing out over a patch of remote land high in the Himalayas, bordered by China, India, and Bhutan. The Chinese dragon and the Indian tiger, the two most populous nations with nuclear weapons, are engaging in their worst border dispute in 40 years, which has turned this spit of land into the most dangerous place in Asia.

You haven’t heard anything about it until now because the U.S. media is so focused on who talked to whom during the 2016 presidential campaign that they can’t spare any resources to report on truly consequential events taking place around the world.

China and India share a very long border of more than 2,000 miles. The two countries have engaged in various border disputes since the nineteenth century. They even fought a war in 1962 over border issues. China claimed it won the war but India only admitted that the war resulted in a stalemate and left many border issues unresolved.

The most recent border dispute started in June, when Indian soldiers stopped a Chinese army construction crew from building a road in a pocket of land in the Dokalam region. Since this land lies between Bhutan, China, and the Indian state of Sikkim, all three countries claim ownership of it. China calls this region Donglang and treats it as part of Chinese-controlled Tibet. Thus, China firmly believes that it has every right to build the road within its sovereign territory. China let India know that “trespass into Chinese territory is a blatant infringement on China’s sovereignty, which should be immediately and unconditionally rectified.” However, Bhutan and India disagree.

This Land Is My Land

Bhutan is a tiny country wedged between two nuclear-armed superpowers. It doesn’t have an official diplomatic relationship with China. The government of Bhutan issued a demarche to China over the road construction, asking China to stop. Since Bhutan has a close relationship with India and relies on India for security protection, it also asked India for help. China has tried unsuccessfully to break the Bhutan-India alliance by engaging Bhutan directly. Bhutan, however, follows India’s lead on this matter.

From India’s perspective, it intervenes on behalf of both India and Bhutan because both have historical claims to the disputed land. Since Beijing and New Delhi agreed back in 2012 to solve their particular border dispute in this tri-junction area through consultations with all countries involved, New Delhi regards China’s recent road construction as a unilateral violation of the 2012 understanding.

Furthermore, India’s military is concerned that the road China intends to build will give China easier access to a strategically important area in India, which is known as the “chicken’s neck,” “a 20km (12-mile) wide corridor that links the seven north-eastern states to the Indian mainland.” If China’s road project succeeds, India military believes it would diminish their own “terrain and tactical advantage” over the Chinese army in this area.

India is also suspicious of the road project’s timing. The construction began right around the same time that India’s Prime Minister Modi was giving U.S. President Trump bear hugs and President Trump proclaimed that the U.S.-India relationship was “never better.” Did China try to warn India not to get too close to the United States by starting a road construction in the disputed area at this particular time? Many in India seem to think so.

Soldiers Face Off ‘Eyeball to Eyeball’

The border standoff continues with no obvious solution in sight. Both China and India increased their troop levels at the border. Online video shows soldiers from both countries facing off “eyeball to eyeball.” So far no one has fired the first shot yet, but the war of words has been heating up, not just at the border, but through both countries’ government officials and media.

China’s ambassador to India said “the first priority is that the Indian troops unconditionally pull back to the Indian side of the boundary. That is the precondition for any meaningful dialogue between China and India.” Chinese media used the 1962 Sino-India border war as an example to forewarn India that if the two sides get into a military conflict again, India will have the most to lose. Chinese media also warned Tibetan exiles in India not to take advantage of the situation because “sovereignty over Tibet is nonnegotiable.”

Indian Defense and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley fired back at China’s rhetoric by reminding China that the India of 2017 is not the India of 1962. He further pointed out that China’s intended construction site was on “Bhutan’s land, close to the Indian border, and Bhutan and India have an arrangement to provide security…To say we will come there and grab the land of some other country is what China is doing and it is absolutely wrong.”

Any Misstep Can Be Fatal

This dispute is a reflection of a deeper problem: the underlying, deep-rooted mistrust and hostility between China and India. Each feels insecure of the other nation’s growing economic and military power. These two countries, with a combined population of more than 2 billion people, both have nuclear weapons and strong nationalistic leaders, and are elbowing each other for the iron throne—ultimate dominance in the region. No one is willing to back down at this point.

Besides border disputes, both nations have breathed plenty of fires to irritate the other side. China’s pipeline project with Myanmar not only allows China to have easier access to cheap oil, but also enables Chinese ships to be present in India’s eastern backyard. India snubbed China’s “One Belt and One Road”(OBOR) economic summit in May by not sending a high-level delegation. India media even called the OBOR initiative “a new kind of colonization.” Starting this week, India is holding naval exercises with the United States and Japan, a move viewed by observers as a show of force against China’s rising naval power.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from the 1962 war, it’s this: any miscalculation or any missteps by either nation could lead to a war with devastating consequences not just for the region, but for the rest of the world. Therefore, it’s absolutely essential that the two nations find a peaceful resolution to their border dispute as soon as possible.

The United States probably will need support from both China and India to deal with the rising threat from North Korea. Therefore, it’s in the United States’ best interest to serve as a mediator to help both nations reach a diplomatic solution, before the “Game of Thrones” Asian edition moves from a fantasy to a bloody reality.

Helen Raleigh owns Red Meadow Advisors, LLC, and is an immigration policy fellow at the Centennial Institute in Colorado. She is the author of several books, including “Confucius Never Said” and “The Broken Welcome Mat.

India China Standoff in High Himalayas Pulls in Tiny Bhutan

July 14, 2017

India China Standoff in High Himalayas Pulls in Tiny Bhutan, Global Security Org., Anjana Pasricha, July 13, 2017

Despite some calls in Bhutan to settle its border with China without worrying about Indian interests, political analysts say public opinion largely favors New Delhi’s firm stand on the Doklam plateau.

But while in the past such border standoffs have been resolved quickly, this time around there are no signs the issue is getting resolved, nearly a month after it erupted.

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A tense standoff between India and China in the high Himalayas is being played out not on the disputed borders between the two Asian giants, but on a plateau claimed by China and Bhutan. Many analysts say the face off is also a play for power in the tiny, strategically located country, which is India’s closest ally in South Asia, but where Beijing wants to increase its presence.

Indian troops obstructed a Chinese road-building project at Doklam Plateau around mid-June. The area also known as “Chicken’s Neck” is hugely strategic for India because it connects the country’s mainland to its northeastern region.

New Delhi cites its treaties with Bhutan, with which it has close military and economic ties, for keeping its soldiers in the area despite strident calls by Beijing to vacate the mountain region.

As the standoff drags on, there are fears in New Delhi that Beijing is also testing its ties with Bhutan, the tiny nation that has made gross national happiness its mantra, but where worries are growing about a big power conflict on its doorstep.

Analysts point out that China wants to wean Bhutan away from India and expand ties with a country with which it has no diplomatic ties.

“At a strategic level, China would like to separate India from Bhutan, they would like to open up Bhutan to their greater influence, that goes without saying,” said Manoj Joshi, a strategic affairs analyst at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.

One small move at a time

According to political analysts, it is not the first time the Chinese have built a road in a disputed area in Bhutan, which has a disputed border with China at several places in the high Himalayas.

“They have done the same in other areas, built roads in mountains and valleys and then claimed it was their territory during border negotiations,” said a Bhutanese political analyst who did not want to be identified. “It has been a hot button issue here, and has been repeatedly debated in parliament.”

These “encroachments” are seen as efforts by Beijing to muscle into Bhutan in the same manner as it has done in South China Sea. Analysts call it a “salami slicing” tactic.

But Bhutan, which worries about being drawn into the rivalry between the two large neighbors, has maintained a studied silence on the latest dispute, except to issue one demarche calling on Beijing to restore the status quo in the area.

“Bhutan has done well, so far, to avoid both the fire from the Dragon on our heads and also the Elephant’s tusks in our soft underbelly. We must keep it this way,” Bhutanese journalist Tenzing Lamsang wrote for The Wire.

Despite some calls in Bhutan to settle its border with China without worrying about Indian interests, political analysts say public opinion largely favors New Delhi’s firm stand on the Doklam plateau.

Influence at stake

While keeping the Chinese out of the strategic plateau is India’s immediate concern, there is also concern about maintaining its influence in Bhutan, which is a buffer between China and India.

India has watched warily as Beijing has steadily increased its presence in its neighborhood in recent years as countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka have also been increasingly drawn into the Chinese sphere of influence by the promise of massive investments in roads, ports and other infrastructure.

In India there are concerns that the same should not happen in Bhutan, its most steadfast ally. Saying the Chinese have been applying pressure on the Bhutanese border, analystManoj Joshi said. “If Bhutan were to go the way of say Nepal, where Indian influence is now questioned, it would make a difference, that buffer would vanish.”

India’s foreign secretary S. Jaishankar this week expressed confidence that India and China have the maturity to handle their latest dispute and it will be handled diplomatically. “I see no reason why, when having handled so many situations in the past, we would not be able to handle it,” he said.

But while in the past such border standoffs have been resolved quickly, this time around there are no signs the issue is getting resolved, nearly a month after it erupted.