Mutual Disengagement @ Doklam

India and China have agreed to “expeditiously disengage“ from the standoff in Doklam on Bhutanese territory after 72 days, with China agreeing to New Delhi's insistence on simultaneous withdrawal for a resolution.

After almost 10 weeks of negotiations between top-level Indian and Chinese officials, the foreign ministry announced that “expeditious disengagement of border personnel at the face-off site in Doklam has been agreed to and is ongoing“. By the end of the day, as Indian troops withdrew to their post at Doka La, Chinese troops and their road-building equipment, too, were removed from the face-off site.

In a second statement at the end of the day , the MEA confirmed that “this process has almost been completed under verification“.

The Doklam standoff has been on since June 16 when Indian troops physically stopped PLA from building a road on Doklam plateau heading towards the Jampheri ridge. China's plan spelt security worry for India as the road will have exposed the Siliguri corridor--narrow strip which links the mainland to the northeast--to Chinese aggression. Post-disengagement, China will continue to patrol the region as it had done earlier, but there will be no road construction activity. The resolution comes on the eve of PM Narendra Modi's visit to China for the BRICS summit. It also comes before the crucial 19th party congress in China where President Xi Jinping expects to be “cleared“ for another five years and he will choose the core group of leaders, who will rule China for the next five years.

A confrontation on the border would have been bad optics for Xi, who is keen to consolidate his position as the undisputed leader. The negotiations were conducted at various levels -first, during the visit by NSA Ajit Doval to China in July, where he held discussions with his counterpart Yang Jiechi. Foreign secretary S Jaishankar led the diplomatic talks with the Chinese side, helped by India's ambassador to China Vijay Gokhale, who worked ceaselessly with the Chinese government over the last couple of months to achieve an outcome acceptable to both sides.

The MEA spokesperson said that in numerous meetings between Indian and Chinese officials in the past couple of months, India was successful in conveying its “concerns and interests“. “In recent weeks, India and China have maintained diplomatic communication in respect to the incident at Doklam. During these communications, we were able to express our views and convey our concerns and interests,“ the MEA spokesperson said.

The Indians went in with some demands -that China should not change ground realities unilaterally; that China should respect the 2012 understanding on trijunctions.

This was detailed by foreign minister Sushma Swaraj in Parliament, where she said, “Point 13 of the common understanding states that `the trijunction boundary points between India, China and third countries will be finalised in consultation with the concerned countries'. Since 2012, we have not held any discussion on the trijunction with Bhutan. The Chinese action in the Doklam area is, therefore, of concern.“

The government did not seek to match China's public belligerence, terming India as the aggressor and demanding that it call its troops back to avoid a fiery retaliation. China was breathing fire in the public domain. However, in the negotiations, sources said, India firmly held the line that bilateral relations would be affected if China did not ensure “peace and tranquillity“ on the border. This could happen only if both sides reverted to the status quo by pulling their troops back.

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