Doklam Plateau: Diplomatic Solution Is Inevitable

Diplomatic solution of the Sino-Indian dispute over the Doklam plateau is inevitable, says Valdai Club expert Vladimir Petrovsky. However, according to him, it will not be easy: in search for a compromise solution it is important for both parties not to lose face, which is of great importance in Asian diplomacy.

The Indian-Chinese conflict over the mountain Doklam plateau can be viewed as an aggravation of the old territorial dispute, because of which the two countries were at war in 1962. Borders of China, India and the Kingdom of Bhutan meet on the Doklam plateau. Not far from this mountain plateau is the Siliguri transport corridor, the so-called “Chicken's Neck,” which connects the main part of India with its northeastern states. When the Chinese military engineering units began preparations for the construction of a small section of the mountain road on the Doklam plateau section, India regarded it as a threat to its strategic interests and, moreover, as an attempt to cut it off from its own territories. As a result, Indian troops advanced to the site and blocked construction.

According to Vladimir Petrovsky, chief researcher at the Russia-China Center, Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, it is difficult to assess the situation from the point of view of international law, since the territory de facto is controlled by China. “Bhutan does not recognize this, neither does India. It should be kept in mind that China and Bhutan do not have diplomatic relations, and Bhutan's diplomatic interests are represented by India. But some time ago, China and Bhutan signed a document where they agreed to maintain the status quo and not to change the situation that was formed there,” the expert told

The Chinese side claims that Beijing’s sovereignty over the disputed territory is confirmed by a series of 19-century treaties with British India. “On March 17, 1890, China and British India made an agreement between the two sides on the border demarcation in accordance with India's opinion, – Zhang Yongpan, research fellow at the Institute of Chinese Borderland Studies (CASS) wrote in his comments for sent by email on Friday. “Although there is no special explanations about Doklam region, but the delimitation rules based on the watershed boundary do not affect the description of the sovereignty of the Doklam. And according to the rules of watershed, the Doklam Plateau had to belong to China.”

According to the Chinese scholar, Indian claims that the disputed territory belongs to Bhutan is related to a false interpretation of Bhutan-China-India tripoint. “When the Doklam standoff happened, some Indian newspapers and scholars stated that the tri-junction of India, Bhutan and China is not Mount Gimpochi, but Batangla, which is located in north of Mount Gimpochi. This is a wrong viewpoint of India,” Zhang wrote. “Mount Gimpochi as a tri-junction was not only recorded in the 1890 convention but also mentioned in other 19th century documents. In 1887, the map published by the Surveying and Geographic Department of the India Office clearly showed that Doklam belongs to the Qing Dynasty territory, and the boundary of Sikkim and Bhutan starts at Mount Gimpochi. In 1890, the Conventions solidified this boundary in the form of international law. Since then, British India repeatedly recognized it as the boundary point between the three kingdoms.”

“If we look at the situation from the position of China,” Petrovsky says, “it turns out that the status quo was violated by India, as it moved troops to the disputed territory. Although there are not so many of personnel, the situation has deteriorated greatly, and the construction of the road is blocked. On the other hand, India believes that the status quo was violated by China, which started the construction of this road.”

“Everything is so intertwined, that it is difficult to evaluate from the point of view of international law. However, I do not believe that there will be a war or some sort of armed conflict. Everything will be limited to the ‘war or words,’ that we can see now. Sure, there are articles with menacing wording in the Chinese press. There is no point in evaluating the situation militarily. There is no point in carrying out military action in a mountainous patch. Neither side can win anything, even spending a lot of resources. But to avoid an armed conflict, it is sufficient  not to violate the status quo,” Petrovsky said.

“The rise of nationalism gave India an opportunity to integrate and expand its influence in the South Asian area,” Zhang says. “But, in reality, the Chinese borderland is eroded by India actions. India must abandon the South Asian hegemony, which British colonial rule left behind. It is not easy. If Chinese always adhered to the legitimate territorial claims and made no concessions in foreign affairs and military operations, how much confidence can India have?”

According to Petrovsky, despite militant rhetoric, China and India have many instruments to conduct talks. “When [on July 28, 2017] the Doklam Plateau crisis flared up, a meeting of Security Council Secretaries of BRICS countries was taking place in Beijing. The representatives of China and India met to discuss the escalation of the territorial problem. Other than that, India recently joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). I hope that, being a member of the SCO, India will find more motivations to resolve this situation diplomatically,” he said. The diplomatic solution of the conflict is inevitable, according to Petrovsky, although it will be difficult because the conflict is so drawn out.

“It’s not a dead end. In China, there is a view that it would be best for both sides to retreat. The main thing is not to lose face, which is important for Asian diplomacy. As far as I can judge, there is a search for such a solution right now. Most likely, there will be a mutual compromise. Of what kind? We will see rather soon,” Petrovsky concluded.

“We hope the situation in Doklam will be resolved peacefully and amicably», Bhutan’s foreign minister Damcho Dorji told the ANI news agency on Friday.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.