Tense Doklam standoff ends: India, China to withdraw troops

New Delhi/Beijing: India and China ended their 75-day-long tense standoff in Doklam with both agreeing to withdraw troops from the disputed region ahead of next week’s BRICS summit in China which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to attend.

However, the announcement of the disengagement by India, and later confirmed by China, was marked by drama, with Beijing claiming that while Indian troops had withdrawn Chinese troops would continue to patrol the area in the tri-junction with Bhutan.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said that China is pleased over India’s withdrawal but stated that Chinese troops will “remain in the region” and exercise their “sovereignty over the region”.

In an apparent bid to rebut the Chinese claim, the Ministry of External Affairs took the extraordinary step of issuing a second press statement in the evening asserting in effect that both sides were withdrawing troops and the process was almost complete.

The MEA evening statement said that following its announcement that India and China have agreed to pull out their troops from Doklam “This process has since been almost completed under verification”.

It added that India has always maintained that differences on boundary issues can only be resolved through diplomatic channels.

The statement said that in June in Astana, India and China had agreed that “differences should not be allowed to become disputes”. “We look forward to continuing engagement with the Chinese side on this basis”.

Simultaneous withdrawal of troops was demanded by India, with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj making it clear in Parliament last month that the two countries should withdraw troops for any meaningful discussion.

There were also reports that the Chinese side had stopped its road construction activity in Doklam that was the trigger for the standoff that began on June 16 when Indian troops stopped a People’s Liberation Army contingent from building a road there.

The simultaneous withdrawal means that status quo has been restored in the area, sources said. “India never had a problem with China patrolling the area, neither has India any claim on the territory. The Chinese statement indicates that the status-quo will be restored,” a government source said.

On Monday morning, the External Affairs Ministry broke the news of disengagement. “In recent weeks, India and China have maintained diplomatic communication in respect of the incident at Doklam. During these communications, we were able to express our views and convey our concerns and interests”.

“On this basis, expeditious disengagement of border personnel at face-off site at Doklam has been agreed to, and is ongoing.”

Indian Army sources said that the process of “disengagement” of its troops had begun, with the Chinese side also withdrawing its soldiers.

The withdrawal of Indian troops from the standoff point started around noon on Monday.

Around 350-400 Indian troops were there at the border point. India had refused to withdraw its soldiers unless there was a simultaneous withdrawal from the Chinese side as well.

The decision to disengage their troops comes ahead of a crucial BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit being hosted by China on September 3-4, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to attend.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua said during a briefing in Beijing: “In the afternoon of August 28, the Indian side pulled back all the Indian troops and equipment to the Indian side of the boundary and the Chinese personnel have verified this.

“The Chinese side will continue to exercise its sovereignty and uphold its territorial integrity in accordance with historical conventions,” she added.

Asked if the disengagement was from both sides, Hua repeated the same statement.

“Just now you mentioned that the Indian side has said it is a mutual engagement, but I want to stress that India has withdrawn all the personnel and equipment to the Indian side of the boundary.

“Chinese personnel on the ground has verified this and Chinese border troops continue to patrol in the Donlong area.”

However, she said: “In the light of the changes of the situation on the ground China will make necessary adjustment and deployment.”

Asked what she meant, she did not elaborate.

Relations between the two nations had dipped to a new low over the standoff at Doklam, with the Chinese side refusing to withdraw. Beijing had accused India of transgressing into its territory and demanded immediate withdrawal of Indian troops. The Chinese side, especially the state media, since then had been on an offensive, and on occasions issued veiled threats of war.

India has maintained that both sides should withdraw simultaneously for any dialogue on the issue, and asserted that war was not a solution.

Amidst the standoff, Prime Minister Modi met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Hamburg on the sidelines of the G20 summit, while National Security Advisor Ajit Doval held talks with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi in Beijing on the sidelines of a BRICS security meet.