India and China have reached an agreement to end the most serious confrontation in decades between the Asian giants along a disputed border in the eastern Himalayas.
A brief statement by India’s foreign ministry on Monday said the decision follows diplomatic communications between the two countries. “On this basis, expeditious disengagement of border personnel at the face-off site at Doklam has been agreed to and is on-going,” the ministry said.
The foreign ministry in Beijing said Chinese soldiers will continue to patrol the area. According to Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, “China will continue to exercise sovereignty rights to protect territorial sovereignty in accordance with the rules of the historical boundary.”
The announcement comes days before Indian prime minister Narendra Modi is expected to travel to China for the summit of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) nations scheduled to be held next week. The two sides were under pressure to find a solution before that visit.
The standoff over the strategic Doklam plateau in the eastern Himalayas had dragged on for two and a half months, much longer than previous border flare-ups that have erupted along their 3,500 kilometer border, parts of which are still disputed.
What started standoff
It began when Indian troops obstructed China from building a road at Doklam, a Himalayan plateau disputed between China and Bhutan. Since then, about 300 troops from each side have been confronting each other, raising fears of a wider conflict. Fears that control of the plateau would give Chinese troops easy access to a strategic strip of land which connects India to its northeast had prompted New Delhi to refuse to vacate the territory, despite angry demands by China.
While China accused India of entering its territory, New Delhi maintained the plateau was disputed territory between Bhutan and China and it had moved in to help its tiny neighbor.
“We were able to express our views and convey our concerns and interests," the Indian foreign ministry statement said.
While New Delhi wanted withdrawal by both sides, China had insisted on a unilateral pullback of Indian troops even as sharp rhetoric from Chinese media had called on India to remember its humiliating defeat in a war they fought in 1962.
In China, spokesperson Hua said, “China hopes India respects the historical boundary and works with China to protect peace along the border on the basis of mutual respect of each other’s sovereignty.”
Commentators in New Delhi welcomed the thaw and said both sides appeared to have found a face saving solution.
Former India diplomat K.C. Singh told NDTV television India would not have objections to Chinese patrols in the area because they took place in the past also. “What they (India and Bhutan) have objected to is changing the status quo, which is building a road, which is bringing bulldozers and a construction crew.”
The official announcements did not mention the status of the road.